World leaders join Ukraine summit in test of Kyiv’s diplomatic clout

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is accompanied by Ambassador of Switzerland to Ukraine Felix Baumann, Deputy Head of Swiss Protocol Manuel Irman, and Ukrainian Ambassador to Switzerland Iryna Venediktowa, as he arrives at Zurich airport, Switzerland June 14, 2024. Zelenskyy will attend the Summit on Peace in Ukraine conference to be held on June 15 and 16 at the Buergenstock Resort in central Switzerland. Michael Buholzer/Pool via REUTERS

By John Revill and Thomas Escritt Reuters

World leaders began gathering at a Swiss mountain resort on Saturday to pressure Russia to end its war in Ukraine and sketch out a path to peace, but notable absences such as China will blunt the summit’s potential impact.

Dozens of Ukraine’s allies will take part in the talks, but Beijing is staying away after Russia was frozen out of proceedings on the grounds it had dismissed the event as a waste of time and had no interest in attending.

China’s absence has dimmed hopes the summit would show Russia as globally isolated, while recent military reverses have put Kyiv on the back foot. The war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has also diverted the world’s attention from Ukraine.

The talks are expected to focus on broader concerns triggered by the war, such as food and nuclear security and freedom of navigation, and a draft of the final declaration identifies Russia as the aggressor, sources said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the gathering an important step. “Many questions of peace and security will be discussed, but not the very biggest. That was always the plan,” he said, speaking to Welt TV.

“This is a small plant that needs to be watered, but of course also with the perspective that more can then come out of it.”

Joe Biden has sent U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris to represent him – riling Kyiv – while Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be represented by his foreign minister and India dispatched a lower level delegation.The video player is currently playing an ad.00:12Pope Francis meets with Biden, Lula at G7 summit

As delegates gathered, Harris announced more than $1.5 billion in energy and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, where infrastructure has been pounded by Russian airstrikes since the 2022 invasion.

About 100 countries and organisations are expected at the two-day gathering in Buergenstock, in central Switzerland.

A military helicopter hovered over the luxury resort overlooking Lake Lucerne on Saturday as leaders arrived by helicopter on a patch of grassland fenced off with razor wire while cows grazed nearby.

On the eve of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would end the war only if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over four provinces claimed by Moscow – demands Kyiv swiftly rejected as tantamount to surrender.

Putin’s conditions apparently reflected Moscow’s growing confidence that its forces have the upper hand in the war. Scholz cast them as an attempt to muddy the waters.

“Everyone knows that this is not a serious proposal, but had something to do with the peace conference in Switzerland,” he said in a separate TV interview.

Switzerland, which took on the summit at the behest of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, wants to pave the way for a future peace process that includes Russia.

“The Peace Summit provides an opportunity for every country to be heard and demonstrate global leadership,” Zelenskiy said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Putin’s proposal had “shown the real path to peace”.

“If you want to save the world, discuss Vladimir Putin’s proposal … Only those who do not want peace can’t see, can’t understand it,” the TASS news agency quoted her as saying.


Zelenskiy has accused Beijing of helping Moscow undermine the gathering, an accusation China’s Foreign Ministry denied.

“The summit risks showing the limits of Ukrainian diplomacy,” said Richard Gowan, U.N. Director at the International Crisis Group.

China had said it would consider taking part, but ultimately declined because Russia would not be there. The summit has also had to contend with an alternative plan floated by Beijing.

The leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Canada and Japan are among those due to attend. Turkey and Hungary, which maintain friendlier relations with Russia, are also expected to join.

European officials privately concede that without support from Moscow’s main allies, the summit’s impact will be limited.

“What can (Zelenskiy) hope for out of it?” said Daniel Woker, a former Swiss ambassador. “Another small step forward in international solidarity with Ukraine.”

Supporters of Ukraine are marking the talks with a series of events in the nearby city of Lucerne to draw attention to the war’s humanitarian costs, with a demonstration planned to call for the return of prisoners and children taken to Russia.

“I’m clinging to the idea that my husband is still alive,” said Svitlana Bilous, the wife of a soldier who has been missing for more than 14 months. “That’s what keeps me going.”

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