The four most intriguing lines from Switzerland’s ‘Summit on Peace in Ukraine’


Around 100 countries wrapped up the two-day ‘Summit on Peace in Ukraine‘ in the Swiss ski resort of Bürgenstock yesterday (Sunday).

High above Lake Lucerne, leaders gathered from every region, whether Macron 🇫🇷 and Meloni 🇮🇹 from Europe, Boric 🇨🇱 and Milei 🇦🇷 from Latin America, Ruto 🇰🇪 and Akufo-Addo 🇬🇭 from Africa, al-Menfi 🇱🇾 and al-Thani 🇶🇦 from the Middle East, or Kishida 🇯🇵 and Gusmao 🇹🇱 from the Asia-Pacific.

Coming after several delays, the timing was interesting, too: the Swiss hosted it (at Ukraine’s request) hours after the G7 summit wrapped in Italy, and ahead of major NATO and EU summits next month – the idea being to maximise attendance and sustain momentum among Ukraine’s closest partners.

So here are the summit’s four most intriguing quotes, and why.

  1. We have half the UN here, while Putin is preparing for a state visit to North Korea” – The outgoing Dutch PM, Mark Rutte

This little zinger gets at the fact that, in any international summit, success often rests as much on who turns up as it does on what they say. In this case, the Russians – who’ve described the process as “pointless” – weren’t invited, a fact Putin’s partners in China cited in their own decision to skip the gathering.

So the Ukrainians pushed hard to drive numbers up and isolate Putin, while Russia (with an assist from China) reportedly did the opposite.

In the end, ~100 out of the 160 invitees attended, including (at a lower level) Russia’s fellow BRICS countries of Brazil, India, and South Africa. That made it the biggest international gathering on Ukraine since Russia launched its full invasion.

  1. We must speak truth: Putin is not calling for negotiations, he is calling for surrender” – Vice president of the US, Kamala Harris

Harris was referring here to Putin’s latest demands, which he lobbed into the fray just as leaders started arriving in Switzerland. He called for Ukraine to: a) abandon its plans to join NATO, and b) withdraw troops from four Ukrainian regions that Russia claims to have annexed (though hasn’t managed to capture).

Meanwhile, The New York Times published new details on the 2022 Russia-Ukraine talks from the early days of the invasion: contrary to Putin’s claims, the paper trail suggests those talks collapsed after a) Russia insisted on a veto over any aid to Ukraine, and b) evidence emerged of Russia’s atrocities in Bucha.

So the US vice president was one of various leaders this weekend who questioned whether any government would accept Putin’s terms.

  1. The crucial takeaway is that we’ve all come here, that we’re talking” – Chancellor of Austria, Karl Nehammer

So what exactly did they all say? Some 80 countries ended up joining the Bürgenstock Communiqué (not to be confused with the Birkenstock Communiqué), which sought the broadest endorsement by highlighting the most agreeable themes:

  • Food security (Ukraine is a major grain exporter),
  • Nuclear safety (Russia still occupies a major Ukrainian nuclear site), and
  • Detainees (Russia has taken thousands of Ukrainian children).

The statement also reaffirms Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” and condemns Russia’s nuclear threats as “inadmissible“, while noting that peace will ultimately require “dialogue between all parties” (ie, Russia too).

And what didn’t they say? The Communiqué avoids some of the pointier points in Ukraine’s 2022 ten-point peace plan, like directly calling on Russia to return to its own borders, pay compensation, or face prosecution for war crimes.

And who didn’t sign it? While some relatively Russia-friendly players (like Hungary, Qatar, Serbia, and Turkey) got on board, others (like Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, and the UAE) stayed out of it.

  1. The road ahead is long and challenging” – President of Switzerland, Viola Amherd

The idea now is for officials to flesh out the statement’s three key themes above, before presenting Russia with a more detailed proposal at a follow-up summit. But nobody seems to have put their hand up to host such a summit yet, and others like China and Brazil are pushing their own alternative processes.

In the meantime, the war rages on: Russia’s renewed offensive looks to be petering out after shifting the front-lines around 19km (12 mi).

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

If so many leaders agreed that “no country would ever accept” Putin’s terms, then why’d he announce them? He probably saw his last-minute intervention as a way to wrong-foot his rivals, nourish the “peace-at-any-cost” voices in the West, and thereby erode or confuse Western support for Ukraine.

And then… what’s the point of hosting a peace summit without Russia? From Ukraine’s perspective:

  • It got the backing of some of the world’s smallest and poorest countries, undermining Russian claims to their solidarity
  • It also showcased Ukraine’s backing from some of the world’s most powerful countries, including most of the West
  • It got backing from right across the political spectrum – whether from Timor’s former guerrilla or Argentina’s firebrand libertarian – potentially detaching Russia’s invasion from party politics
  • And it tied Ukraine’s fate to universal interests like food, children, and nukes, so…
  • It refocused a distracted world back on Russia’s ongoing invasion.

But then… why did Brazil, India, and others abstain? They see a multipolar world ahead and want to preserve their room to manoeuvre. But in the meantime, they also want to balance independence against irrelevance. So for them, the sweet spot was to turn up, but lay low.

Also worth noting:

  • The US announced $1.5B in energy sector and humanitarian support for Ukraine at the summit.
  • Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 member states “agreed in principle” on Friday to begin Ukraine’s accession talks later this month, though there’s speculation Hungary could (again) block consensus.
  • Also on Friday, the G7 leaders reiterated they’ll support Ukraine’s defence “for as long as it takes“, while announcing a $50B package financed largely from the proceeds of frozen Russian assets.
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