Ian Proud – Zelensky’s peace formula is dead: My takeaways from the Swiss summit

The Swiss Summit was not designed to end the Ukraine war.

Ian Proud was a member of HM Diplomatic Service from 1999 to 2023. From July 2014 to 2019 he was posted to the British Embassy in Moscow, where he led on politico-economic analysis and sanctions policy. He has recently published his memoir  A Misfit in Moscow: How British Diplomacy in Russia failed, 2014-2019.

In what was an echo chamber for Ukraine’s allies to encourage Zelensky to continue to reject formal peace talks with Russia, the Swiss Summit delivered nothing.  Here are my key takeaways.

The west makes up two-thirds of the signatures

Of the 82 signatories to the Communique, 45 were European Countries including non-EU members, there were 4 European Institutions and 5 other western allies that have sanctioned Russia, including Japan. Add in Israel, which is a US client state, that makes 55 countries and institutions.

BRICS blocked the Summit as did 9 G20 Members

No BRICS member state associated itself with the final communique.  There are two reasons for this.  Firstly, they believe that Russia should be involved in any peace process for it to be credible. India’s representative at the Summit said that “only sincere and practical engagement” between Russia and Ukraine can lead to enduring peace.  The second point is that Ukraine will need to make difficult compromises in any peace process, something Zelensky has been determined not to do.  Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister said, “we believe it is important that the international community encourage any step towards serious negotiations which will require difficult compromise as part of a road map that leads to peace.”

There were also major G20 no-shows with 9 of the non-western members not associating themselves with the Communique.  The notable exception to this was Argentina, which got behind the summit outcome. 

The Middle East completely turned its back on the Summit

Given almost unconditional US support for Israel’s actions in Gaza, Middle Eastern Countries turned their back on the summit and final communique. They were most likely turned off by a US-engineered peace initiative for Ukraine that, much like US efforts in Gaza, seek to support one side over another in the conflict.

Only Qatar, which is playing an active role in negotiating prisoner handovers associated itself with the Communique.  

As did the wider Global South

Of the 27 non-western allies who signed the communique, there was a very limited showing from mostly smaller Asian and Pacific (6) Latin American (9) and African states.  This sent a powerful statement that the Global South was turned off by this initiative.  

Ukraine’s position on territorial integrity not sustainable

While western media have claimed the communique endorsed Ukraine’s territorial integrity as a basis for a just and lasting peace, this isn’t correct.

A core part of Zelensky’s so-called peace formula is the requirement that restoring Ukraine’s 1991 borders is core to reaching any peace deal.  This is highlighted under the umbrella of the fourth point of Article 2 of the UN Charter that States should “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.

However, Russia claims that NATO expansion, including towards Ukraine, is a threat to its state under the same clause of the UN Charter.  The communique wording is therefore ambiguous on this point.  Indeed, Russia might argue that the final paragraph of the text refers to its rights as much as to Ukraine’s rights.

At best, the communique was therefore inconclusive on territorial integrity. This confirms my assessment that any future peace deal will require Ukraine to make compromises, based on the battlefield realities, which are not likely to shift.

Ukraine trying to demand a one-sided text on nuclear and prisoner exchange

While the communique as a whole is a demonstration in diplomatic circumlocution, there are obvious points where Ukraine has tried to stamp Zelensky’s so-called formula on the text. The clause on returning Zaporizhia to the “full sovereign control of Ukraine” ignores the fact that it is currently under Russian control. Likewise, the clause on the return of “deported and unlawfully displaced Ukrainian children”: this would never make the text of any peace deal as Russia claims, rightly or wrongly, that is has acted to protect vulnerable children. The point is, that trying to shape a communique that pushes Ukraine’s positions and ignores Russia’s, will never garner broad-based international support.  

Zelensky’s demands for military withdrawal, restoration of its borders and a war crimes tribunal are dead in the water

As I predicted in my separate article, Zelensky’s demands to settle for peace by turning back the clock to 1991 can never be met in this one-sided format for dialogue. Ukraine has not secured significant backing from the Global South for the less contentious topics discussed in Switzerland. It will never be possible to find agreement on the far more contentious points, if non-Western states consider that this is a US-led attempt to impose an outcome on Russia in absentia.  

A follow-up event in Saudi Arabia will put more pressure on Zelensky to compromise and involve Russia

So with BRICS and the Global South decidedly lukewarm on this Swiss Initiative, it won’t be possible to garner their support for a tougher line on Russia in future. If another Ukraine Peace Summit is convened – and there are suggestions that this might take place in Saudi Arabia – the pressure will grow on Zelensky to make compromises and involve Russia. 

So, the biggest outcome from the Summit, if there was one, was to confirm that Zelensky’s so called 10-point peace formula is dead in the water.  It’s time for him, now, to start talking to Russia.

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1 Comment

  1. Global South is kind of hymera- it’s existing only on newspaper pages. So-called Global South is in fact just a mechanical list of countries not connected by ecconomical or political ties. It’s much more virtual than BRICS, which at least meets once a year and has a small bank.

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