An exercise in futility The Statesman 11 Jun 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


An exercise in futility

An exercise in futility The Statesman 11 Jun 2024

          Switzerland is to host ‘A summit on peace in Ukraine’ on 15-16 Jun at a resort near Lake Lucerne in central Switzerland. The Swiss government hopes this summit, hosted on the request of Ukraine, in an idyllic setting, will lay the groundwork for a peace process. In Jan this year, the Swiss government announced, ‘At the request of the Ukrainian president, Switzerland has agreed to host a summit on the peace formula.’

          In the same conference, Zelensky mentioned, ‘it is important for us to show that the whole world is against Russia’s aggression, and the whole world is for a just peace.’ It was hoped that a neutral Switzerland could produce what Copenhagen and Jeddah (where two previous summits were held) could not.

Vladimir Zelensky, the Ukrainian President has been calling for heads of nations to attend the summit, hoping it would send a message of global support to Kiev against the Russian invasion. Moscow had mentioned in early May itself that it has no intent to participate in the summit.

          As per Kiev, about 110 nations or organizations have confirmed attendance for the summit. From the US, Vice President Kamala Harris, would participate. China has refused to attend claiming the summit ‘does not meet three important conditions: recognition from Russia and Ukraine, equal participation of all parties, as well as fair talks of all peace plans.’ Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, mentioned the summit would be ‘absolutely futile’ without Russia’s participation, which is true.

          Zelensky visited Singapore for the Shangri-la summit last week. He reiterated his call for Asian nations to attend. Singapore and Manila confirmed attendance. In addition, he accused Russia and China of attempting to derail the summit. He mentioned, ‘Russia, using Chinese influence in the region, using Chinese diplomats also, does everything to disrupt the peace summit.’ He added, ‘With China’s support to Russia, the war will last longer.’ While his accusing Russia would have little impact, bringing China into the fold would.  

          The US had possibly pushed for Zelensky to attend the Shangri-La summit and highlight Chinese support to Russia on a global platform. The intent appeared to be to break growing China-EU partnership. Zelensky’s words, ‘It is unfortunate that such a big, independent, powerful country as China is an instrument in the hands of Putin,’ will resonate in Brussels, as after all, European nations are funding Ukraine to keep Russia at bay.

Zelensky’s comments were reiterated by the US hoping it would impact Europe’s trade ties with China including imports of EV vehicles. China understood the US game and responded with anger and disdain.

          Neither the Indian PM nor EAM would attend. India would likely be represented by a foreign office staffer, level of which remains unknown. This despite strong requests by Ukraine and Europe to India to participate. India has not criticized Russia for the invasion while insisting on dialogue as the way forward. However, without participation of Russia, the summit outcome would have little value.

The first summit on Ukraine was held in Copenhagen in Jun last year with zero output. In Aug, Saudi Arabia hosted a similar summit, attended by 40 nations, excluding Russia. All founding members of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) were present. India was represented by its National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval. The Brazilian delegate had rightly mentioned then, ‘Although Ukraine is the biggest victim, if we really want peace, we have to involve Moscow in this process in some form.’ There was no declaration released at the end of either summit.    

In the current summit, members of the BRICS grouping will either be absent or have minimal participation (India). The South African President, a member of BRICS, had last year led a delegation of 10 African leaders on an attempted peace mission to meet heads of Ukraine and Russia hoping to resolve their differences. Nothing emerged. Saudi Arabia has also turned down the invite, possibly as a fallout of lessons flowing from its own summit.

With the withdrawal of Pakistan, no member of even the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) would also be present at the summit. Thus, nations which can influence Russia or are members of groupings with it, are absent, casting doubts on the summit producing any value addition to ongoing efforts. None of the current attendees can influence Russia.

Meanwhile the conflict expands. With sanction to engage targets within Russia, employing US and European armaments, the war will witness increased attacks and greater loss of lives. Ukraine is aware that it can never roll back Russian forces but only defend its frontlines while targeting Russian military assets within their own state. In such a scenario, expecting Russia to adhere to Ukraine’s demands is futile.

The summit is expected to discuss Ukraine’s proposals which include Russian withdrawal from their territory, including Crimea, and the establishment of a tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes. No nation, including US and Israel, have ever been prosecuted for war crimes, of which both have been accused. With Moscow very clear on its stand, a declaration at the conclusion of the summit would have little value, except possibly highlight unity towards Ukraine, largely from Europe. 

          Russia has been stating that dialogue is the way forward, while insisting that existing ground realities must remain the basis for talks. It currently controls approximately 20% of Ukrainian territory which it is unlikely to return. Simultaneous would be its conditions on Ukrainian neutrality and removal of Zelensky.

          Both Russia and Ukraine are sticking to their positions, unwilling to bend. In such an atmosphere any positive outcome from the summit is unlikely. Dialogue is only feasible when there is space for negotiation between adversaries.

The war involves Europe and has limited interest for nations from other continents, hence participation by them would accordingly be less. Those who attend would remain mute bystanders and be there only to mark their presence.

          Zelensky’s belief that display of unity in a peace summit could result in Russia withdrawing from its territory is utopia. With key nations, including those which possess the power to influence Russia missing, the summit would be just another tabletop discussion with no fruitful result. It appears to be another attempt by Zelensky to shift attention from Gaza towards his nation.          



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