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Ukraine seeks path to just peace at Swiss summit

By AFP

June 15, 2024 09:11 PM


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President Volodymyr Zelensky said he hoped to find a route to a "just peace" as soon as possible, as a first international summit on pathways to end Russia's war in Ukraine opened on Saturday.

More than 50 world leaders were due to join Zelensky at the Burgenstock resort in Switzerland for a two-day peace summit -- though with Moscow rejecting the event, it only has the modest ambitions of laying the groundwork for ending the conflict, now in its third year.

"I believe that we will witness history being made here at the summit," Zelensky said as the event began, calling for a "just peace".

"Everything that will be agreed upon at the summit today will be part of the peacemaking process.

"We have succeeded in bringing back to the world the idea that joint efforts can stop war and establish a just peace."

The summit is aimed at trying to agree a basic international platform for eventual peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow.

 Putin demands effective surrender  

Swiss President Viola Amherd said future summits were envisioned, eventually involving Russia, and that this one would "take concrete steps" towards a "lasting peace".

"We can prepare the ground for direct talks between the warring parties: that is what we are here for," she said.

Ukraine has suggested Russia could attend a second summit, where it would be presented with any joint plan agreed by the other attendees.

"We have to talk to the enemy. We cannot negotiate peace between likeminded countries," Slovenia's President Natasa Pirc Musar said ahead of the talks.

In a combative speech on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin had slammed the conference and demanded that Kyiv effectively surrender before any actual peace negotiations.

Zelensky on Saturday said the only person who wanted the war was Putin and has rejected the Kremlin leader's "ultimatums".

NATO, the United States and several Western countries also dismissed Putin's hardline conditions.

  92 countries taking part 

 Some 100 countries and global institutions, including the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, are convening at the Swiss luxury mountainside resort for the talks.

The heads of some non-European countries, like Chile, Ghana and Kenya, are also attending.

But US President Joe Biden sent his Vice President Kamala Harris, who announced more than $1.5 billion in new aid for Ukraine, mainly for its energy sector and in humanitarian assistance.

Russia's BRICS partners Brazil and South Africa are only sending an envoy, and India will be represented at the ministerial level.

China is absent, insisting it will not take part without Moscow's presence.

 Low hopes 

 The gathering comes at a perilous moment for Ukraine on the battlefield, with Russian forces advancing against outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian units.

Near Ukraine's embattled eastern front, hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough are nearly nil.

"I'd like to hope that it will bring some changes in the future. But, as experience shows, nothing comes of it," Maksym, a tank commander in the Donetsk region, told AFP.

Outside the summit venue, the wife of a Ukrainian soldier captured by Russia said she hoped the leaders could agree "some exchange process for the prisoners of war".

"I want to see my husband," said Hanna, who fled her home in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol and now lives in Sweden.

  Nuclear, food, humanitarian focus 

 In addition to laying the groundwork for a peace settlement, specific talks at the summit will focus on three narrower areas: nuclear safety, freedom of navigation and food security, and humanitarian aspects.

That includes prisoners of war and the issue of Ukrainian children taken to Russia or Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine.

"One of the major themes is to see how we can... finally obtain a result in bringing back deported children," said Didier Reynders, the EU Commissioner for Justice.

Kyiv accuses Russia of abducting almost 20,000 Ukrainian children, and the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Putin over the accusations.

Moscow rejects the claims and says it has relocated children away from frontline fighting for their own protection.

Attendees are wrangling over a possible final joint declaration, according to sources close to the discussions cited by Swiss public news agency Keystone-ATS.

Kyiv has insisted that terms like "Russian aggression" and references to the "territorial integrity" of Ukraine appear in any joint communique, but it remained unclear if more than 90 countries could get behind such wording.

Arriving at the Burgenstock gathering on Saturday, Finland's President Alexander Stubb said Ukraine "comes to these discussions from a position of strength".

G7 leaders this week agreed to a $50-billion loan for Ukraine using profits from the interest on frozen Russian assets, and Kyiv also inked a 10-year security agreement with Washington for military aid and training at that summit.

On Friday, the European Union's 27 member states also agreed "in principle" on beginning accession negotiations with Ukraine.


AFP


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