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Swiss Peace Summit: Beacon of hope or a diplomatic stalemate?

Swiss Peace Summit: Beacon of hope or a diplomatic stalemate?

The Swiss Peace Summit, formally known as the Summit on Peace in Ukraine, recently last month at the picturesque Bürgenstock Resort, represents another chapter in the ongoing quest for peace in Ukraine. Hosted by Swiss President Viola Amherd, the summit aimed to advance dialogue on achieving lasting peace in Ukraine amidst its ongoing conflict with Russia. Convened on June 15-16, 2024, this summit brought together representatives from around the globe, reflecting a collective desire to address the persistent conflict that has plagued Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in 2022.

This photograph shows the Swiss flag set among the flags of the other countries during a plenary session at the Summit on peace in Ukraine, at the luxury Burgenstock resort, near Lucerne. (Photo by URS FLUEELER / POOL / AFP)(AFP)

Under the neutral and conciliatory umbrella of Switzerland, 92 nations and several international organisations gathered to discuss a pathway to peace. Swiss President Viola Amherd underscored Switzerland’s long-standing tradition of promoting dialogue and peace, which was evident in the summit’s focus on key issues like nuclear security, food security, and humanitarian concerns.

The summit culminated in a joint communiqué that reaffirmed the participating countries’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This document emphasised the safe operation of Ukrainian nuclear facilities, condemned attacks on maritime and port infrastructures, and demanded the release of prisoners and the return of Ukrainian civilians detained by Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressing the summit, reiterated his willingness to engage in peace talks, contingent upon the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territories. This steadfast stance highlights a broader dilemma: peace cannot be achieved through one-sided concessions. The insistence on territorial integrity as the cornerstone of any peace agreement is not merely a diplomatic stance but a fundamental assertion of Ukraine’s right to sovereignty and self-determination.

While many western nations echoed this sentiment, there was notable ambivalence among some developing countries. This division reflects the complex geopolitical landscape and underscores the challenge of building a cohesive international response to the conflict.

A glaring aspect of the summit was the absence of Russia. This exclusion, whether by design or by choice, casts a significant shadow over the efficacy of the dialogue. The Kremlin dismissed the summit as futile without its involvement, underscoring the deep divide that continues to hinder progress toward peace. True resolution requires all parties, especially those at the heart of the conflict, to be part of the conversation. Peace talks that exclude key stakeholders may bolster international support for Ukraine but fall short of bringing an end to hostilities.

India’s position at the Swiss Peace Summit was emblematic of its broader diplomatic strategy. Traditionally, India has maintained a nuanced stance on the Ukraine conflict, advocating for peace while also balancing its strategic ties with Russia. At the summit, India emphasised the importance of dialogue and diplomacy, urging both Ukraine and Russia to find a mutually acceptable solution. However, India stopped short of endorsing the joint communiqué, reflecting its cautious approach to international conflicts where it seeks to avoid alienating key partners.

India’s non-endorsement of the communiqué underscores its pragmatic diplomacy. The country has consistently advocated for respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, yet it remains wary of taking sides in conflicts that could disrupt its strategic relationships. This approach allows India to maintain a delicate balance between supporting international norms and safeguarding its national interests, especially its longstanding ties with Russia, which include defence and energy partnerships.

As the summit concluded, there was a commitment to actionable steps. Zelenskyy announced the formation of specialised working groups to develop concrete measures toward peace, potentially setting the stage for a second summit, possibly hosted by Saudi Arabia. This future dialogue aims to build on the foundations laid in Switzerland, fostering further international engagement and support for Ukraine.

While the Swiss Peace Summit may not have brought immediate breakthroughs, it set a crucial precedent for continued international efforts toward peace. It highlighted the necessity of sustained dialogue and the importance of a unified global stance on fundamental principles like sovereignty and human rights.

Yet, as we commend the summit’s symbolic successes, we must remain vigilant against complacency. True peace in Ukraine demands persistent, pragmatic engagement and the difficult process of negotiation and compromise. The world’s leaders must strive not just for declarations of intent but for actionable steps towards lasting peace.

The Swiss Peace Summit may shine as a beacon of hope, but its light must be guided toward tangible outcomes. Only then can we say that such gatherings are more than diplomatic rituals but genuine steps toward ending one of the most grievous conflicts of our time.

This article is authored by Ananya Raj Kakoti and Gunwant Singh, scholars, international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.