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Ukraine seeks path to just peace at Swiss summit

Jun 15,2024 - Last updated at Jun 15,2024

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R)and Swiss Federal President Viola Amherd (2R) hold a press briefing during the Summit on peace in Ukraine at the luxury Burgenstock resort, near Lucerne, on June 15, 2024 ( AFP Photo)

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


More than 50 world leaders were joining 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. May a just peace be established as soon as possible," Zelensky said as the event began.


"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.


"We will not be able to negotiate or even proclaim peace for Ukraine here on the Burgenstock, but we wish to inspire a process for a just and lasting peace, and we wish to take concrete steps in this direction," she said.


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


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


Zelensky said Saturday the only person who wanted the war "was Putin. But in any case, the world is stronger".


NATO and the United States also immediately rejected Putin's hardline conditions.


92 countries taking part 


The conference, convening 100 countries and global institutions, comes at a perilous moment for exhausted Ukrainians and outgunned soldiers, more than two years since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.


The leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan are attending, as is the European Union chief and the leaders of Colombia, Chile, Finland, Ghana, Kenya and Poland.


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.


Argentinian President Javier Milei and the presidents of Fiji and Ecuador were among the early arrivals.


Russia's BRICS allies 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.


Samuel Charap, a Russia expert at the RAND think tank, said of the summit: "Russia is clearly going out of its way to demonstrate its pique with it... That tells you something.


"Avoiding the expansion of the pro-Ukraine coalition -- they're concerned about this," he told AFP.


Low hopes on front line 


After almost a year of stalemate, Ukraine was forced to abandon dozens of frontline settlements this spring, with Russian troops holding a significant advantage in manpower and resources.


Near Ukraine's embattled eastern front, hopes for any major 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.


And in Kyiv, Victoria, a 36-year-old energy industry worker, said she was "exhausted" by the war and wanted to believe the summit would help end it.


But, she said, "I'm a realist in life, so I don't have high hopes."


Nuclear, food, humanitarian focus 


The summit aims to find paths towards a lasting peace for Ukraine based on international law and the United Nations Charter; a possible framework to achieve this goal; and a roadmap as to how both parties could come together in a future peace process.


A plenary session involving all delegations will be held on Saturday.


On Sunday, three topics will be discussed in detail in working groups: nuclear safety, freedom of navigation and food security, and humanitarian aspects.


Ukraine hopes Russia will attend a second summit and receive a joint plan presented by the other attendees.

The Burgenstock gathering comes straight after the G7 summit, at which the seven wealthy democracies agreed to offer a new $50-billion loan for Ukraine, using profits from the interest on frozen Russian assets.

A landmark 10-year security deal signed by Zelensky and Biden on Thursday will see the United States provide Ukraine with military aid and training.

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

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