Home » Putin would applaud Biden absence at Swiss peace summit, says Zelenskiy

Putin would applaud Biden absence at Swiss peace summit, says Zelenskiy

Putin would applaud Biden absence at Swiss peace summit, says Zelenskiy

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said Vladimir Putin will give a standing ovation to Joe Biden if the US president fails to attend a peace summit in Switzerland next month.

On a visit to Brussels where he signed a 10-year security pact with Belgium, the Ukrainian leader said it would not be “a strong decision” if Biden failed to attend the talks scheduled for 15-16 June near Lucerne.

“[The] peace summit needs President Biden and so do the other leaders who look at the reaction of the United States. Putin will only applaud his absence, personally applaud it – and standing, at that,” Zelenskiy said.

The conference is being organised at Zelensky’s request to secure “a just and lasting peace” but Russia has not been invited, so it remains unclear what it can achieve.

More than 160 delegations have been invited, including members of the G7, G20, the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN. Zelenskiy said he was also expecting a reply from China and Brazil, and stressed that all participation mattered. “Believe me every voice is important.”

Belgium has pledged to send 30 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine by 2028, with the first deliveries scheduled to arrive later this year. Zelenskiy said the delivery of jets in 2024 would “make our stance stronger” but voiced frustration with western allies’ restrictions on weapons being used against targets on Russian soil.

He said Ukrainian troops were being killed or forced to retreat as Russian forces attacked them from the border near Kharkiv. At the weekend at least 12 people were killed and dozens injured when Russians attacked a DIY store in a residential district of Kharkiv.

Referring to that attack, Zelenskiy said: “Everything was blown up, children, people, civilians and you cannot answer [Russia]. You receive the satellite images from your intelligence but there is nothing you can do to respond. I think this is unfair. But – and this is a fact – we cannot risk the support of our partners. That is why we are not using our partners’ arms to attack the Russian territory. That is why we are asking please give us the permission to do that.”

Zelenskiy met Belgian F-16 pilots, instructors and technical staff at Melsbroek military airport on Tuesday. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Hours later, Putin claimed that the west had provoked Russia’s latest offensive into the Kharkiv region by ignoring Moscow’s warnings not to allow Ukraine to strike the adjacent Russian region of Belgorod. Strikes on Russian territory by weapons supplied by the west to Ukraine were only possible with the help of specialists from western countries, Putin said, according to Reuters, and he added that this could lead to serious consequences.

Zelenskiy’s plea to end the limits on western weapons was supported by the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, who said it was time for EU member states to lift restrictions on Ukraine striking Russian territory.

Pointing out that some allies had not imposed restrictions on weapons sent to Ukraine, Stoltenberg said: “I believe the time has come to consider those restrictions, not least in light of the development in the war, the evolution into a war which now is actually taking place along the borders and that makes it even harder for them to defend themselves.”

Allowing Ukrainians to attack military sites on the other side of the frontline in Russia was legitimate, Stoltenberg said, echoing remarks from the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, who said it was within the rules of war as long as it was within humanitarian law.

Under the terms of the F-16 agreement with Belgium, Ukraine will not be allowed to use the Belgian jets to attack targets inside Russia.

The Belgian prime minister, Alexander De Croo, said Belgium was working to deliver the first F-16s as soon as possible, without specifying how many would arrive this year. “The fact that we can add our planes ourselves already this year is a very important signal to make absolutely clear that Ukraine will have a full-blown capacity based on fighter jets in the months to come and in the years to come,” De Croo said.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the agreement signed with Belgium’s Alexander De Croo was worth €977m this year. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/Reuters

Belgium promised jets last October and Zelenskiy said this was the first time that the exact number of F-16 fighter jets to be delivered to Ukraine by 2028 had been specified.

Zelenskiy was in Brussels to sign a long-term support and security agreement between Ukraine and Belgium, which he said was worth €977m this year. Under the agreement Belgium will provide equipment for air forces and defences, naval security, mine clearance, military training and ammunition.

The agreement touches on strengthening sanctions against Russia, justice, compensation and economic recovery. The two sides will also deepen cooperation on intelligence, cybersecurity and countering disinformation.

On Monday Zelenskiy was in Spain where the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, pledged €1bn in military aid for Ukraine in a decade-long deal that Madrid said would strengthen Ukrainian air defences.

The F-16, originally built by the US in a consortium with Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, has become the most popular military aircraft of all time. Ukraine asked for 200 F-16 aircraft in January 2023 but it took months to persuade western allies to back a plan to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the jets.

Switzerland’s upper house of parliament has backed a motion to toughen measures to expel spies, taking aim at Russian intelligence agents before the peace summit.

Voting 32 in favour and nine against late on Monday, legislators supported the motion entitled “systematically expel Russian spies and other foreign spies”. The Swiss president, Viola Amherd, said: “Foreign states should feel Switzerland is reacting to violations of its security and defending itself.”