World Leaders Meet In Switzerland To Discuss Ukraine Peace Roadmap, Russia Absent

During a press briefing with US Vice President Kamala Harris, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the summit could lay the groundwork for an eventual end to the conflict.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy | Photo: AP

Dozens of world leaders converged on a Swiss resort Saturday to discuss how to bring peace to war-ravaged Ukraine, though any hopes of a real breakthrough were muted by the absence of Russia.

Three years into the war, the combatants remain as far apart as they've ever been, with Kyiv sticking to its demands that Russia leave all Ukrainian territory it has seized and Moscow pressing on with its grinding offensive that has already taken large swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Despite Russia's absence from the summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy predicted at the outset that the talks would lead to “history being made.”

“We have succeeded in bringing back to the world the idea that joint efforts can stop war and establish a just peace,” he said at a news conference alongside Swiss President Viola Amherd.

During a press briefing later with US Vice President Kamala Harris, Zelenskyy said the summit could lay the groundwork for an eventual end to the conflict.

“At the first peace summit, we must determine how to achieve a just peace, so that at the second, we can already settle on a real end to the war”

The Swiss hosts said more than 50 heads of state and government would attend the gathering at the Burgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne.

Some 100 delegations, including European bodies and the United Nations, were also expected.

Who would and wouldn't show up was a point of intrigue about a meeting that critics said would be pointless without the presence of Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Although his country didn't attend, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday took the rare step of laying out his terms for ending the war. But his proposals didn't include any new demands, and Kyiv blasted them as “manipulative” and “absurd.”

The conference was attended by presidents or prime ministers from countries as far afield as Britain, Ecuador and Kenya, whereas other nations such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia sent their foreign ministers.

Meanwhile, some key developing countries such as India, South Africa and Brazil, which was only observing the event, sent lower-level officials.

China, which backs Russia, joined scores of countries that sat out the event. Beijing has said any peace process would require the participation of Russia and Ukraine, and has floated its own ideas for peace.

Last month, China and Brazil agreed to six “common understandings” on a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, asking other countries to endorse them and play a role in promoting peace talks.

The six points include an agreement to “support an international peace conference held at a proper time that is recognized by both Russia and Ukraine, with equal participation of all parties as well as fair discussion of all peace plans.”

Russian troops who control vast swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine have made territorial gains in recent months. When talk of a Swiss-hosted peace summit began last summer, Ukrainian forces had recently regained large tracts of territory, notably near the southern city of Kherson and the northern city of Kharkiv.

Against the battlefield backdrop and diplomatic strategizing, summit organizers have presented three agenda items: nuclear safety, including at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia power plant; humanitarian assistance and a prisoner of war exchange; and global food security, which has been disrupted at times due to impeded shipments through the Black Sea.

That to-do list, which includes some of the least controversial issues, is well short of the proposals and hopes laid out by Zelenskyy in a 10-point peace formula in late 2022. That plan called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied Ukrainian territory, the cessation of hostilities and the restoration of Ukraine's original borders with Russia, including Russia's withdrawal from occupied Crimea.

Putin, meanwhile, wants any peace deal to be built around a draft agreement negotiated in the early phases of the war that included provisions for Ukraine's neutral status and limits on its armed forces, while delaying talks about Russian-occupied areas.

Ukraine's push to join NATO over the years has rankled Moscow.

On Friday, Putin told Russian diplomats and senior lawmakers that he would “immediately” order a cease-fire and begin negotiations if Ukraine drops its bid to join NATO and starts withdrawing troops from four regions that Moscow illegally annexed in 2022.

Although Putin's demands are a nonstarter for Ukraine, Kyiv is currently unable to negotiate from a position of strength, analysts say.

“The situation on the battlefield has changed dramatically,” said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, noting that although Russia “can't achieve its maximalist objectives quickly through military means,” it is gaining momentum on the battlefield.

“So a lot of countries that are coming to the summit would question whether the Zelenskyy peace formula still has legs,” he told reporters Wednesday.

With much of the world focused on the war in Gaza and national elections in 2024, Ukraine's backers want to bring global attention back to Russia's breach of international law and a restoration of Ukraine's territory.

The International Crisis Group, an advisory firm that works to end conflict, wrote this week that “absent a major surprise on the Burgenstock," the event is “unlikely to deliver much of consequence.”


“Nonetheless, the Swiss summit is a chance for Ukraine and its allies to underline what the UN General Assembly recognized in 2022 and repeated in its February 2023 resolution on a just peace in Ukraine: Russia's all-out aggression is a blatant violation of international law,” it said.

Experts said they would be looking closely at the wording of any outcome document or plans for a way forward. Swiss officials, aware of Russia's reticence about the conference, have repeatedly said they hope Russia can join the process one day, as do Ukrainian officials.

As world leaders discussed a pathway to peace in Switzerland, the war ground on in Ukraine, where shelling killed at least three civilians and wounded 15 others on Friday and overnight into Saturday, regional officials said.


Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia's southern Belgorod region, blamed Ukraine in a social media post for shelling Friday that struck a five-story apartment building in the town of Shebekino, killing five people. There was no immediate comment from Kyiv.