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Can Ukraine peace summit achieve anything without Russia’s participation?

Click to play video: 'Ukraine peace summit: Questions remain over path to peace following Switzerland meeting'
Ukraine peace summit: Questions remain over path to peace following Switzerland meeting
WATCH: The path toward peace in Ukraine took a few small steps forward this weekend at an international peace summit. Representatives from dozens of countries gathered in Switzerland to draft a roadmap of how to get there. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was at the conference, but other major world leaders skipped it. And as Mackenzie Gray reports, that’s cast doubt on how quickly peace can finally come to Ukraine – Jun 16, 2024

Representatives from 90 countries, including Canada, are expected to gather in Switzerland this weekend for a Swiss-hosted Ukraine peace summit — without Russia’s involvement — that organizers hope will “inspire” a path toward peace.

Moscow has said it won’t participate in any negotiations based on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s peace proposals, which Russia rejects. And some of Russia’s key allies, namely China, have said they won’t take part in talks that don’t include Russia.

That — along with U.S. President Joe Biden skipping the event — has many questioning what the summit can hope to achieve, particularly as the fighting rages on nearly 28 months after Russia’s full-scale invasion.

But Ukrainian and Swiss officials insist the event won’t be held in vain.

“This is basically an exercise of getting consensus from the rest of the world in order to show a united front and force Russia to the table,” Oleh Nikolenko, Ukraine’s consul general in Toronto, said in an interview.

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Swiss officials say the conference aims to set a course toward “lasting peace” in Ukraine, to reach a “common understanding” toward getting there, and draw up the “roadmap” on how to get both sides involved in talks. Nuclear security, humanitarian aid and food security are also on the summit’s agenda.

“This is not about propaganda,” Swiss President Viola Amherd told reporters in the Swiss capital of Bern on Monday. “This is about the basis of humanitarian aid provided by Switzerland, based on fostering peace (and) to provide a platform to initiate a dialogue.”

Click to play video: 'Putin says Russia does not need to use nuclear weapons to defeat Ukraine'
Putin says Russia does not need to use nuclear weapons to defeat Ukraine

Ukraine sent invitations to 160 countries to the summit, and Amherd said it was not a “disappointment” that fewer than 100 have announced their involvement so far. A final list of participants will be released Friday before the summit officially kicks off Saturday.

Brazil and China have said publicly they won’t take part in any peace talks unless both Ukraine and Russia are at the table. Swiss officials said Monday that India will participate but other countries that are considered close to Moscow, including Turkey and South Africa, have yet to say if they will attend.

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Beijing has been one of the top supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin since the war started, according to U.S. officials, and has also called for “all peace plans” to be considered. That would include terms proposed by Russia, which insists on holding the territory it has seized.

As many as 4,000 military personnel will be deployed to provide security and support air transportation, surveillance and roll out security fencing and steel wire for the event, Swiss officials said. They added an increase in cyberattacks in the run-up to the summit had been noted, but didn’t provide details.

How are Canada, U.S. participating?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will represent Canada at the summit, joining other world leaders and representatives. Zelenskyy will also attend.

U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris will take part on behalf of the United States along with Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

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The White House has downplayed the fact Biden will not attend himself, despite the summit taking place immediately after this week’s G7 Leaders’ Summit across the Swiss border in Italy. But others fear his absence will be seen as a snub.

“The Ukrainians are really frustrated … because they had pressed the G7 to support holding this summit, and they scheduled it to accommodate Biden’s schedule,” Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and a special representative for Ukraine, told Global News.

“What’s the message that sends to Putin?”

Click to play video: '‘Not going to walk away’: Biden apologizes to Zelenskyy for delay of weapon packages to Ukraine'
‘Not going to walk away’: Biden apologizes to Zelenskyy for delay of weapon packages to Ukraine

Biden met with Zelenskyy during his visit to France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, where he apologized for a months-long delay to get congressional funding for more U.S. military aid that Ukraine’s army has relied on throughout the war. The two are expected to meet again during the G7 summit.

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Canada was among the first countries to signal support for Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan that will guide this summit and others organized by Ukraine. In addition to food and nuclear safety, it also calls for the full withdrawal of Russia’s troops from Ukrainian territory, the restoration of Ukraine’s pre-invasion borders, and the return of all political prisoners and children deported by Russia.

Canada and Ukraine are leading the International Coalition for the Return of Ukrainian Children, which is also focused on family reunification. Ukrainian authorities estimate as many as 20,000 children have been taken to camps and other facilities where they are allegedly re-educated by Russia.

The return of those children is also due to be discussed at the summit, where Nikolenko said he expects Canada may play a “significant” role.

“There is a huge demand for increased efforts to bring those children back,” he said.

Canada may also be a strong voice in food security talks, he added, both as an agricultural country and through its connections with other food-producing countries in Asia and Africa.

Can anything of substance be achieved?

Nevertheless, there is recognition that the peace summit can only achieve so much without Russia’s involvement.

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That may also be true with other gatherings being held in the coming days and weeks where Ukraine is set to be a major topic of discussion, including the G7 summit and next month’s NATO Summit in Washington, D.C.

“It’s the summer of summits,” said Volker, who spoke to Global News from the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin that opened Tuesday to discuss how the international community will fund Ukraine’s reconstruction after the war finally ends.

“We have to ask ourselves, in each of these summits, are we making a difference? Are we sending the right message to Vladimir Putin, that his war against Ukraine is never going to win?”

Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine war: NATO leaders meet as Ukraine seeks easing of western weapons restrictions'
Russia-Ukraine war: NATO leaders meet as Ukraine seeks easing of western weapons restrictions

That message may land flat if it’s not backed up with action on the battlefield itself, Volker and other experts and analysts say, including removing restrictions on where Ukraine can strike within Russian territory and providing Kyiv with stronger weapons and capabilities.

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The U.S. late last month said it would allow Ukraine to only strike Russian assets across the border from Kharkiv to stem an onslaught of the major northern city.

An analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said that limited policy change still leaves close to 85 per cent of Moscow’s military forces and infrastructure — all of which are in range of U.S.-provided long-range weapons — free to continue threatening Ukraine from within Russia.

Russia has bombarded Kharkiv and other cities across Ukraine with missile attacks targeting energy infrastructure, while its troops are mounting new offensives in the east to take advantage of the delays in western military aid reaching Ukraine’s army.

“The only way to get Russia to stop its aggression is for them to realize they’re going to lose, that they’ll be defeated on the ground and it will damage Russia considerably if they keep this up,” Volker said.

“Then a negotiation can be useful to put (post-war) terms in writing. But until that point, a summit is not going to achieve anything to actually bring about peace.”

Speaking in Germany on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said the fact it was even happening was a result, as it was becoming harder to keep countries onside as war drags on.

“It is important not to hand over (the initiative) … to Russia,” he said. “Because the Russian initiative had been demonstrated on the day of the full-scale invasion. Their vision is the occupation of our country.”

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— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters

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