Zelenskiy Vows to Forge Ahead as Summit Risks Falling Short

(Bloomberg) -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed to press ahead in broadening international support for his war-battered nation as a leaders meeting in Switzerland risked falling short in finding a path for a “just peace.”

Most Read from Bloomberg

China’s absence from the two-day meeting and the attendance of lower-level diplomats from the so-called BRICS states cast a shadow over efforts to win over the Global South. But the Ukrainian leader said the gathering would be the start of a process to force Russia to end its aggression and secure peace.

“Even if they are not here today at the first summit, we have succeeded in bringing to the world that joint efforts can stop war and establish peace,” Zelenskiy told reporters at the start of the meeting at a mountaintop resort outside Lucerne, Switzerland on Saturday.

After stopping off at a Group of Seven summit in Italy that yielded additional support, the Ukrainian leader turned his diplomatic efforts to potential allies outside the West. Ninety-two countries sent delegations to the summit, but the attendance list shows that attempts to maximize support among world leaders was a heavy lift.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, who announced a $1.5 billion assistance package and aid to repair Ukraine’s energy sector, came in lieu of President Joe Biden, who left the G-7 summit Thursday and plans to attend a fundraiser in California.

China, which has insisted that a forum that excludes Russia is unworkable, avoided the meeting. Among the other BRICS members, India sent a state secretary, while South Africa sent a lower-level official. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was in Switzerland on Thursday himself to attend an International Labor Organization meeting, dispatched only an observer.

Putin’s Demands

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan accused China of giving in to Russian pressure by staying away – and said the absence was in line with Beijing’s assistance to the Kremlin, including the “supply of inputs for Russia’s war machine.”

“I presume they are not here because Putin asked them not to come, and they obliged Putin,” Sullivan told reporters on the sidelines of the summit. “China has asserted that it stands for peace in Ukraine. A good way to have shown that would be to come here.”

The struggle to widen the ranks of Ukraine’s allies risks sapping Zelenskiy’s war effort as the momentum in fighting has swung to Russia, which has exploited Kyiv’s depleted stocks of ammunition and manpower this year. A day before delegates arrived, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to raise the cost of any future peace — calling on Kyiv forces to withdraw from four Ukrainian regions partially occupied by his military as a condition for talks.

The US vice president, who called Russia’s war an “attack on international rules and norms,” rejected the demand and reinforced American support for Ukraine.

“We must speak truth — he is not calling for negotiations, he is calling for surrender,” Harris told the delegates. “America stands with Ukraine not out of charity, but because it is in our strategic interests.”

The Swiss summit did have high-level billing. G-7 leaders are represented, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also planned to attend. Turkey and Saudi Arabia sent their foreign ministers.

Scholz acknowledged that the meeting can be only a first step toward forming a consensus — and that once the process develops, Russia must be brought to the table.

“This is a small diplomatic plant that we will now water so that it will grow,” the German leader said.

For now, delegates will seek to reach an understanding over a narrower set of goals covering nuclear and food security and the return of abducted children to the war-battered nation. But leaders stressed that the number of delegates who came to the Swiss meeting underscored an already far-reaching consensus.

“We have half the UN here, and he’s preparing for a state visit to North Korea — so there’s your story,” outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters, referring to Putin’s plans.

China and Brazil have made their own proposals to bring about an end to the war. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said that some 26 countries signed up to — or were seeking to join — the “common understandings” that underpinned the plan.

--With assistance from Arne Delfs and Samy Adghirni.

(Updates with Sullivan comments in seventh, eighth paragraphs.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.