A negotiated peace over Ukraine is still many months away

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Ukraine's closing press conference of the Summit on peace in Ukraine
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Ukraine's closing press conference of the Summit on peace in Ukraine

A peace conference without the participation of the principal belligerent would seem to lack one of the crucial ingredients for ending a conflict. The summit meeting on Ukraine held in Switzerland at the weekend attracted representatives from dozens of countries, with the notable exception of the Russians.

Volodymyr Zelensky said they had not been invited because if “Russia was interested in peace, there would be no war”. But while that is true, clever rhetoric will not bring this disaster to an end. Russia’s willingness to accept whatever peace terms are on offer is critical.

Since Kyiv and Moscow will not engage in direct negotiations, the Swiss summit was by way of a proxy opening of negotiations, but with the two sides far apart. The West cannot be seen to let Russia’s aggression succeed, and yet it does not give the weapons necessary for Ukraine to win, leading to stalemate and brutal attrition.

President Zelensky has put forward a 10-point plan for ending the war and will be emboldened by the support from more than 80 countries, not all normally inclined towards the West.

Although China did not attend, the hope is that Vladimir Putin will recognise the strength and breadth of the coalition against him and be forced to give way. But he has shown no sign of doing so and is even demanding territory he does not yet possess in exchange just for a ceasefire, let alone a final deal.

Financial measures, including the $50 billion loan to Ukraine funded by borrowing against seized Russian assets, are adding to the pressure on Russia to find a way out of what has been a calamitous invasion from its point of view.

The summit declaration – calling the conflict a war, not the “special military operation” claimed by Moscow – focused on matters such as nuclear-power safety and food exports through the Black Sea. Sadly, it was not supported by all the delegations, with Saudi Arabia, India and South Africa among the dissenters. Does the flagrant abuse of international law and the clear evidence of war crimes not matter?

The territorial integrity of Ukraine was reaffirmed, but it is here where any final deal will stand or fall. Mr Zelensky said another similar summit was being planned, possibly in Saudi Arabia, at which they could “fix the real end of the war”. But the reality is that nothing will happen ahead of the US presidential elections in November.

This is just the beginning of a long, painful and fraught process.