Ukraine is dropping its “peace formula summit” that it wanted to hold at the United Nations to mark the yearlong anniversary, on Feb. 24, of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, a Western source familiar with the decision told PassBlue. Instead, a ministerial, emergency special session in the General Assembly will most likely be held on Feb. 23 to commemorate Russia’s incursion, which has continued nonstop for the last 11 months. Yet another gruesome missile attack by Russia over the weekend hit an apartment building in Dnipro, leaving 29 people dead.
The peace summit was to be based on President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10-point peace formula that he presented virtually to the Group of 20 conference in Bali in November. The formula includes references to nuclear security, food security, energy security, releasing all prisoners of war and deportees, fully restoring Ukraine’s territory, punishment for war crimes, protection for its physical environment and signing a peace treaty.
It appears that a UN resolution enshrining the peace formula may not materialize as part of the commemoration, either, despite efforts by Ukraine in the last several weeks to push for such a possibility. A ministerial debate on the war is tentatively planned for Feb. 24 in the Security Council.
The decision to put aside a peace formula summit was made after Ukraine’s first deputy foreign minister, Emine Dzheppar, spent several days last week at the UN, describing to the Security Council publicly on Jan. 12 and 13 Russia’s chaos in her country while emphasizing her president’s ambition to carry out a peace conference at the UN next month. She also met with several UN officials and others about the proposal.
But the risks were considered too high to force an elaborate summit in the 193-member General Assembly, despite its resounding condemnation of President Vladimir Putin’s war. Even a scaled-back summit supporting Zelensky’s peace formula would have meant weeks of round-the-clock work by diplomats. The spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry said that no decision has been made as to whether Zelensky will come to the UN for the commemoration. That would entail enormous preparation, given that his trip to meet President Joe Biden and Congress in Washington last month required the United States to pick him up with an Air Force plane, cloaked in secrecy.
Dzheppar used her UN visit to test the waters for a peace conference among its members, especially Ukraine’s prominent allies.
“We invite all responsible nations to join and to contribute to peace and the rule of law by facilitating and promoting the implementation of the Peace Formula Plan,” she said on Jan. 12, during a daylong debate in the Security Council on the general topic of the rule of law, led by Japan.
The idea for a peace summit surfaced publicly in late December, with Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba saying it would not allow Russia to take part, even though the plan was to hold it at the UN. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council.
In an interview on Dec. 26, Kuleba said that his government wanted a peace summit at UN headquarters with Secretary-General António Guterres mediating. The UN’s response, AP reported, was tepid. “As the secretary-general has said many times in the past, he can only mediate if all parties want him to mediate,” a UN associate spokesperson, Florencia Soto Niño-Martinez, is quoted as saying in the article. Asked about whether Ukraine would invite Russia to the summit, Kuleba said that Moscow would first need to face prosecution for war crimes at an international court.
“They can only be invited to this step in this way,” Kuleba said.
Dzheppar is a former journalist from Crimea. On Jan. 13, she pitched the summit idea to Council members: “Since February 24, the occupiers have cut short the lives of 453 children for nothing,” she began. “Every day as I enter my office in the Ministry, I see photos of Crimean Tatar girls and boys, whose fathers have been illegally sentenced by Russian occupiers for their pro-Ukrainian stand as a revenge for their pro-Ukrainian stand being allegedly called ‘Muslim-extremists.’ It is my everyday personal reminder that we must restore justice and security.
It is precisely to that end that President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy has initiated the Peace Formula. We believe that its 10 points can bring back security and justice not only to Ukraine, but to the entire world.”
Another Ukrainian official, Vasyl Bodnar, the ambassador to Türkiye, reportedly said of the peace summit last week: “We believe that most probably it will take place in New York within the UN on the 24th of February.” As to Russia’s not taking part, Bodnar add: “How could you invite the country which wouldn’t like to have peace for the peace conference?”
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s UN envoy, who accompanied Dzheppar on her participation in UN meetings, did not respond to a request from PassBlue for a comment.
At the Council session on Jan. 13, specifically on Ukraine, the peace summit idea was raised by just a few of the 15 members, although pleas to open avenues for talks were recited by numerous diplomats, as many of them have been doing since the war began.
The US, however, has been lukewarm to the suggestion of a peace summit at the UN.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said of “peace” in general at the Council meeting: “This new year offers us, along with our new colleagues on the Council, an opportunity to reflect on the last year. Let’s start by reminding ourselves of the mandate of this body. The Security Council is the primary body responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. That is a serious, solemn duty. The UN Charter, and the peace it strives to achieve, is in our hands — it’s in our care.”
Although Dzheppar met with Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of the UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, there is no public record of Dzheppar meeting with Guterres. The UN spokesperson’s office had no comment to PassBlue on the status of the peace summit.
DiCarlo spoke at the Jan. 13 Council meeting. She did not mention the summit, but Dzheppar tweeted about a conversation she had with DiCarlo:
After detailing the war’s effects on Ukraine and the rest of the world, DiCarlo said, “The logic that prevails is a military one, with very little, if any, room for dialogue right now. But all wars end, and so too will this one.”
The UN calculates that approximately 7,000 civilians have died since Putin unleashed his army on Ukraine 11 months ago, and that 11,000 people have been injured. (The UN does not track the number of military deaths in the war, but the top general in the US, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, said in November that Russia and Ukraine had each seen about 100,000 of their troops killed or wounded.)
The UN and other institutions have been documenting war crimes and other atrocities committed by Russia, such as raping Ukrainians and the bombing of civilian infrastructure. (Ukraine has also been accused of human-rights abuses and using cluster munitions, which are banned internationally.) Yet prisoner of war swaps go on and the Black Sea Grain deal trudges ahead, with both instances reflecting the willingness of Ukraine and Russia to agree on certain matters.
In the Council meeting on Jan. 13, however, the war remains shocking for most members, as evinced in their speeches. Britain’s envoy, Barbara Woodward, defended Ukraine’s counteroffensives against Russia, adding that “like the rest of us, what Ukraine wants is a just and sustainable peace. We support Ukraine’s initiative to this end.”
Nicolas de Rivière, France’s envoy and also a permanent Council member, like Britain, mentioned the peace formula. “Through the 10-point peace plan proposed by President Zelensky, Ukraine, for its part, is mapping out the path to a just and lasting peace,” he said. “This will not be achieved without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory.”
China’s envoy, Zhang Jun, spoke vaguely, saying: “The path of peace talk is not a smooth one. But as long as we do not give up our efforts and demonstrate political determination and wisdom, starting from little and practical things, the prospect of peace will always be within reach.”
Ecuador, an elected member of the Council as of January, minced no words regarding Russia’s “military aggression” against Ukraine. “Ecuador is ready to support any initiative that promotes political dialogue and diplomacy and that furthermore eliminates the specter of a nuclear threat,” Hernán Pérez Loose, the country’s permanent representative, said.
Dzheppar spoke to journalists several times outside the Council during her two days at the UN, wearing a yellow-and-blue dress on Friday, the bold colors of Ukraine’s flag. She said to reporters about the summit: “We are now thinking and suggesting to our president the modality of event dedicated to the peace formula. . . . . It will be either a debate in General Assembly within the agenda item on the occupied territories. Or the debate with the special session mechanism. So it’s something we’re now deciding.”
She also tweeted about her meetings with her Polish counterpart, Wojciech Gerwel. “We will be glad to see #Poland as one of the key players in Peace Formula implementation. I thank Poland for its unconditional and sincere support of Ukraine at every single step,” she wrote.
Dzheppar met as well with the president of the General Assembly, Csaba Korosi, a Hungarian diplomat, mentioning in a tweet the peace formula plan without confirming that it will go ahead.
Predictably, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia belittled the peace summit idea. “Now Ukraine is fussing around with the idea of some ‘peace summit,’ implying that it is Russia that wants no peace,” he said in the Council on Jan. 13. “Clearly, this is an attempt to strike a chord with Western audience, which have come to ask more and more questions as to how Kiev spends its allotted money, and also wonder why Ukraine would rule out realistic initiatives for mediation one after another.”
Yet Nebenzia, who has walked out of Council debates on Ukraine on several occasions when Ambassador Kyslytsya spoke, waited to leave the chamber until Dzheppar finished her remarks.
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and near Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working in New York at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.