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The Ukraine Peace Summit Must Now Become a Great-Powers Summit

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The Swiss-hosted peace summit on Ukraine, held June 15-16 in the Alps, could be used to further a global process to end the war, the essayist argues, along with UN methods to manage the such a transition. PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY/X

Some 90 countries, mostly from NATO and its allies as well as the global South, participated in the peace summit hosted by the Swiss government in an alpine resort recently. The gathering was based on President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan. Russia was not invited, China declined to attend and numerous delegations participated at a lower political level, including the United Nations as an observer.

What’s next remains uncertain, but a final communiqué called for “a dialogue between all parties,” respect for territorial integrity, promoting prisoner exchanges and ensuring nuclear safety.

Peace summits and conferences have been used during the last 125 years to find ways to move from war and hostility toward peace and a new security architecture for Europe and the world, starting from The Hague Peace conferences of 1899 and 1907.

The most important conferences were those held in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam to end World War II and create a new security architecture for the world, leading to the UN Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in April 1945. But sometimes such conferences are destined to fail if they are not wisely designed, such as the Treaty of Versailles and the Paris Peace conference to end WWI, which enabled Hitler’s rise to power.

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Both Russia and Ukraine are still making unrealistic preconditions for negotiations to start, but the international community could do more to establish a process to lead to a lasting peace. A second peace conference with all UN Security Council permanent-five members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — is imperative to ending the war.

Although not widely known, a peace deal was already quite close within two months after the Russian invasion of February 24, 2022. Two prominent American experts on Russia, Fiona Hill and Angela Stent, wrote that fall in Foreign Affairs that the preliminary agreement reached between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators in Istanbul in April 2022 included saying that Ukraine would no longer seek membership in NATO but would receive security guarantees from several countries and that Russia would agree to withdraw to the military situation of Feb. 23, 2022. First reports on these peace negotiations were provided by the Ukrainian pro-government journal Ukrainska Pravda in May 2022 and former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in February 2023.

In April this year, Foreign Affairs published a new study on negotiations. The authors, Samuel Charap from the RAND Corporation and Sergey Radchenko from Johns Hopkins University, concluded that while ” . . . Putin and Zelensky were willing to consider extraordinary compromises to end the war” one main reason it failed was the lack of engagement and enthusiasm of major powers — the US and Britain in particular — to end the war. Bennett even said that the West “blocked” his ceasefire initiative.

While in the past the UN presence on the ground has been used repeatedly to solve major wars, few suggestions to use UN methods to bring peace to Ukraine have been proposed. Still, some recommendations were made in December 2022 in Noema magazine and January 2023 in Le Monde Diplomatique to use a temporary UN administration, UN peacekeepers and a referendum organized by the UN in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. A model for a temporary UN administration is UNTAET, or the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, which in 1999-2002 successfully helped East Timor’s path to independence from Indonesian occupation.

Other important voices have also suggested using UN tools to resolve the war. As the defense minister of Indonesia (and now the president) Gen. Prabowo Subianto proposed at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June 2023 a ceasefire and a demilitarized zone in Ukraine. Under such a plan, the UN could monitor the zone and hold elections in the disputed areas in Ukraine.

On May 3, 2024, the Council of Presidents of the UN General Assembly, in their Doha Declaration, echoed the provisional agreement to end the war reached in Istanbul in April 2022. It called for “the launch of a credible peace process based on the Istanbul agreement of April 2022 which includes the neutrality of Ukraine along with a decision on the self-determination of the occupied territories in the form of a referendum under the auspices of the United Nations.”

In any credible peace process for Ukraine, the key issues for negotiations concern the neutrality of Ukraine, the security guarantees to prevent future Russian invasions and the status of occupied areas. The views of the West and Russia are still far apart. A compromise could be delineated based on the Istanbul agreement of April 2022. If Russian-occupied areas are based under a UN transitional administration, with international peacekeepers securing the truce, such an idea would provide temporary security guarantees to Ukraine and help to start further negotiations and a massive reconstruction effort.

The search for a peaceful, negotiated solution to the war couldn’t be more urgent. The New York Times reported earlier this year that the nuclear Armageddon — the threat of using first tactical nuclear weapons by Russia and possible expansion into a global nuclear war — was much closer in October 2022 than is widely known. Through Ukrainian military advances in the battlefield at the time, the scenario of their further breakthrough toward the Crimean Peninsula, Russia’s main strategic interest, seemed possible. At this point, according to CIA estimates, the likelihood of Russia using nuclear weapons rose to 50 percent or higher.

To start the process toward a second peace conference on Ukraine, the proposal could originate from a country or a coalition of countries or from an international organization or association. One of the most successful peace conferences in recent times was one on cooperation and security in Europe that took place in Helsinki in 1975. That  idea emanated from Russia/Soviet Union, but Finland changed it in key aspects by expanding membership to the US and Canada, broadening the agenda and offering to be the host, making sure that an intense diplomatic campaign started immediately to work.

After a difficult start, the momentum built. That is how peace summits succeed.


This is an opinion essay.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on a UN role in peace for Ukraine?

Tapio Kanninen is senior fellow and director of the Major Wars Project at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is a former chief of policy planning with the UN Department of Political Affairs.

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The Ukraine Peace Summit Must Now Become a Great-Powers Summit
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Maria Dmytriyeva
Maria Dmytriyeva
22 days ago

man, take off your pink glasses. you don’t negotiate with a genodical maniac. you defeat him, you demilitarize his war-crazed country, and then you set the conditions.
I have a feeling a lot of people did not learn anything from the previous two world wars.
it seems it will take a full-fledged third world war to teach you this lesson.
it’s a pity our children won’t live to see you learn.

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