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Ukraine peace summit: Diplomatic support and political snubs

June 16, 2024

Scores of countries backed a Ukraine-led call for peace at first-of-their-kind talks in Switzerland. But Brazil, India and South Africa were among those shunning a joint statement.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy takes part in a closing press conference on Sunday, June 16, 2024.
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the first-of-their-kind talks in Switzerland a 'great success'Image: Sean Kilpatrick/Zumapress/IMAGO

Tucked high in the Swiss mountains, the Bürgenstock resort is no stranger to making history. It has hosted movie stars and power brokers throughout the 20th century, and in 2002, the Sudanese government and rebels brokered a cease-fire deal here.

But as leaders, ministers and envoys of more than 90 nations descended on the mountaintop venue for first-of-their-kind talks on bringing peace to Ukraine, the goals were more modest. Russia was not invited and showed no interest in attending, prompting its ally China to boycott the talks. Swiss hosts said they hoped only to lay some groundwork for future negotiations, inching forward on a long path to peace.

Aerial photograph of Bürgenstock resort above Lake Lucerne taken on June 4, 2024.
The Bürgenstock resort in Switzerland hosted scores of world leaders for talks on how to secure peace in UkraineImage: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Still, as talks began, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy insisted historic events were afoot.

Getting more than 50 world leaders into a room to talk about peace in Ukraine is no mean feat. Securing representation from dozens more to include all continents is even harder.

It was the result of months of painstaking diplomacy and came together in spite of a Russian political counteroffensive aimed at denigrating the gathering.

The two-day talks welcomed nations beyond the usual guestlist at meet-ups of Kyiv's backers, a step away from the accusations of echo-chamber politics often leveled at Western powers.

Kenya's president condemned Russia but also asked "all parties to the war" to "soften their positions" — while Saudi Arabia's foreign minister spoke of "difficult compromises" ahead.

This wide invite list meant cracks between Ukraine's backers and key players in Africa, Asia and Latin America were also on display in the Swiss mountains. And the snubs and no-shows spoke volumes too.

Representatives, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni sit at a long table with microphones and waterbottles in front of them.
90 countries were represented at the two-day talksImage: Michael Buholzer/REUTERS

Dozens back statement on Ukraine's territorial integrity

The talks culminated in a statement backed by the vast majority of attendees — some 80 countries including all European Union member-states, the United States, Ghana, Kenya, Argentina, Colombia, the Philippines, Qatar and Guatemala.

"The ongoing war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine continues to cause large-scale human suffering and destruction, and to create risks and crises with global repercussions for the world," the communique reads.

"We reaffirm our commitment to refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, the principles of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine."

Peace summit reaffirms Ukraine's territorial integrity

Signatories also condemn nuclear threats, warn against weaponization of food security, and call for a "complete prisoner exchange" and the return of "all deported and unlawfully displaced Ukrainian children."

India, South Africa, Indonesia refuse to sign

But the words were not rubber stamped by everyone in the room. Diplomatic heavyweights India, South Africa, Indonesia, and Mexico were among several countries which attended the talks but chose not to back the final text.

Those nations had already signaled some reticence by sending diplomats or ministers — not their leaders — to Switzerland.

Summit on peace in Ukraine ends in disunity over declaration

Claude Rakisits, an analyst with the Brussels-based Centre for Security, Diplomacy and Strategy, is not surprised. He says some nations "don't want to rock the boat" as they try to balance ties with the West, and with Russia and China.

Ahead of the summit, Kyiv accused Moscow and Beijing of piling diplomatic pressure on other states to convince them not to come, which China denies. Rakisits says elements of individual nations' relationships likely fed into calculations about whether to heed the Swiss invitation — like India's reliance on Russia for weapons supplies or South Africa's historic ties to Moscow.

"This conference is about much more than Ukraine. It's about maintaining the international order," Rakisits told DW.

Swiss Federal President Viola Amherd (2-L) speaks next to Swiss Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis (L), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C), Ukraine's Head of the Presidential Office of Ukraine Andriy Yermak (2-R), and US Vice President Kamala Harris (R) on 15 June 2024.
Ukraine's allies say the fact that 90 nations showed up is 'significant,' despite some countries choosing to snub the final statementImage: EPA/MICHAEL BUHOLZER

Ukraine says summit shows international support 'not weakening'

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy rebuffed questions about whether he was disappointed by some states choosing not to sign the statement, instead saying the fact scores did join was "a great success."

"This summit says that international support is not weakening. It is strong," he told journalists on Sunday.

Kyiv's Western allies echoed the optimistic tone.

"It is definitely the largest and most senior gathering of countries across the world to talk about how we move to peace in Ukraine since the outbreak of the war. That in itself is significant," Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris told DW on the sidelines of the talks.

Vladimir Putin points to something in the distance as he sits at a desk
Russia claims it wants peace in Ukraine but demands the country cede large swathes of its territoryImage: Valentina Pevtsova/Pool Sputnik Kremlin via AP/dpa/picture alliance

Russia's proposal rebuffed by Western leaders

On the eve of the summit, Russia unveiled its own purported plan for peace — one which demands Ukraine cede large swathes of its territory and abandon its ambitions of joining the Western military alliance NATO.

Rakisits said the proposal was likely part of Moscow's bid to derail and distract from the talks in Switzerland. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed it as "not serious."

"I don't think Putin is in any position to be setting preconditions," Ireland's Simon Harris told DW. "The reality is that any peace settlement, any peace process has to be in line with international law. And all international law respects the territorial integrity of a country."

But as leaders filed out past the "path to peace" slogans adorning walls and walkways around the venue, there was little doubt that real progress is not achievable without Moscow.

And countries gathered in Switzerland remained at odds on how to make that happen.

Group photo during the opening of the peace summit for Ukraine in the Bürgenstock complex on June 15, 2024.
Leaders failed to agree on how to include Russia in future talksImage: Moncloa/EUROPA PRESS/dpa/picture alliance

"One key question remains: How and when can Russia be included in the process?" Swiss President Viola Amherd said as talks closed on Sunday.

"The discussions over the past two days have shown that there are different points of view. All the more important is our understanding that the path toward peace in Ukraine must be pursued on the basis of international law."

Path laid for follow-up talks? 

No official follow-up summit was announced, but Swiss President Amherd said several states expressed willingness to host future talks. Canada meanwhile announced plans to gather foreign ministers for talks on humanitarian issues in Ukraine.

"It's clear that to end the war you need both parties at the table," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters outside the venue.

"My job and the job of all Ukrainian diplomats and the top priority of President Zelenskyy is to bring Ukraine to this table in the strongest position possible."

Edited by: Rana Taha