The Arduous Path to Peace in Ukraine

The past year has been a tough one for Ukraine. Its 2023 spring offensive failed. US military aid started coming after months of delay. Mobilization became unpopular in Ukrainian society. Children of Ukrainian migrants in Europe are experiencing schooling difficulties. By contrast, Russia has regained momentum.

On June 15-16, 2024, Switzerland is organizing a Summit on Peace in Ukraine at Bürgenstock. The task of the meeting is to develop a common understanding of a path towards a just and lasting peace in Ukraine.[i] Switzerland has invited over 160 delegations to attend the summit. Reportedly, 107 countries and international organizations have agreed to attend.

Russia is not invited to the summit. China has declined the invitation. During President Putin’s visit to China,  President Xi Jinping said that Beijing supports the convening of an international peace conference recognized by Russia and Ukraine at an appropriate time with equal participation and fair discussion of all options, to push for an early political settlement of the Ukraine issue and that China stands ready to continue to play a constructive role in this regard.

Last week, the White House announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will represent the US at the meeting. This disappointed President  Zelensky who earlier had said that President Biden’s absence would only draw applause from President Putin. Last week, in Manila, Mr. Zelensky also criticized Beijing China for acting like an instrument of President Putin.

Like numbers, the level of attendance would also signal how the world, beyond the West, views the conflict.

In February, President Macron said there was “no consensus” on committing ground troops to the conflict in Ukraine but added, “Nothing should be excluded. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win this war.”

Last week, there were reports that France could soon send military trainers to Ukraine and provide training in France as well despite the concerns of some allies and criticism by Russia. On D-day, President Macron announced that France would transfer Mirage-2000 fighter jets to Ukraine and train their Ukrainian pilots. Last Saturday in remarks to the press with Mr. Biden, he said that the two leaders see eye to eye on the war raging in Ukraine. His guest responded, “The United States is standing strong with Ukraine… We’re standing with our allies. And we’re standing with France. We will not — we will not — say it again — walk away.”

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has said that military trainers are probably already on the Ukrainian territory and regardless of their status, military officials or mercenaries represent a legitimate target for Russia’s armed forces.

In recent times, President Macron’s increasingly pro-Ukrainian, anti-Putin stance gave the impression of an important change in France’s long-term foreign and security policy that could also include a quest for European leadership and becoming Washington’s top European interlocutor, putting behind the hurdles of the recent past. During D-day ceremonies and President Biden’s state visit to France, both leaders took every opportunity to underline a strong relationship. Then, on Sunday evening, following the European Parliament elections reflecting a surge of the far right, particularly in France and Germany, came a dramatic change. President Macron dissolved the National Assembly and called for new legislative elections.

Thus, a lot would depend on who would be the winner of the US presidential election and the implications for Ukraine of the ground shift in European politics.

President Biden has now given Ukraine the go-ahead to use American weaponry to strike targets inside Russia for the limited purpose of defending Kharkiv according to US officials familiar with the matter. Last Tuesday Yehor Chernev, the deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament’s committee on national security, said that Ukrainian forces had destroyed Russian missile launchers with a strike in the Belgorod region. Kharkiv is 30 and Belgorod is 40 kilometers to the Russian-Ukrainian border. Last week President Biden had another cordial meeting with Mr. Zelensky in France and expressed America’s continuing support.

For some, Washington’s support for Ukraine is the dictate of the “rules-based international order”, a stand against aggression. In his D-day remarks, President Biden struck a parallel between the fight against Nazi Germany and the invasion of Ukraine. In a message addressed to Mr. Trump also, he said that isolationism was not the answer 80 years ago and is not the answer today.

For others, who also disapprove of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the whole story could have been written differently. They now see the conflict as a proxy war to “weaken and isolate” Russia. Beyond these conflicting views, the tragedy is Ukraine cannot win this war and recapture its lost territories by force. And NATO members’ further involvement in the war carries risks of escalation.

Reportedly, Mr. Trump has privately said that he could end Russia’s war in Ukraine by pressuring Ukraine to give up some territory, according to people familiar with the plan. His proposal consists of pushing Ukraine to cede Crimea and the Donbas border region to Russia, according to people who discussed it with Trump or his advisers and spoke on the condition of anonymity because those conversations were confidential.

Thus, the world is anxiously waiting for the US presidential election.

In today’s unruly world and the uncertainty in Western politics, charting a way toward peace in Ukraine remains a huge challenge. However, since Russia’s being turned into a non-major power remains an impossibility, any progress toward peace would be a relief not only for the people of Ukraine and Europe but also for other countries on Russia’s “near-abroad”. One may remember in this connection that at NATO’s Bucharest Summit of April 3, 2008, the Alliance agreed that Ukraine and Georgia would become members of NATO. It also declared support for the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova.

Two months before the summit, then-US Ambassador to Russia (now CIA Director) William Burns had sent to the State Department a memo saying that Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite not only President Putin.

Only four months after the summit, Georgian President Saakashvili, thinking that the West stood solidly behind him, sent troops into the rebellious province of South Ossetia but Russia came to its defense. Within days, Russian troops were within striking distance of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. At the end of the five-day war, Russia formally recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

As for the criticism directed against Beijing for its “support to Russia”, if Washington’s choice is to keep Russia bogged down in Ukraine, then China would certainly opt for keeping the US bogged down there too. And Washington’s Taiwan policy and efforts to isolate China in the Indo-Pacific will only push Beijing toward Moscow as reflected in President Putin’s last visit there. Moreover, today is the 248th day of the war in Gaza, and Beijing and Moscow are delighted that Washington is now faced with a complicated Middle East problem with no end in sight. In other words, the US is now fighting two wars.

Yet, appallingly, some are suggesting that America should prepare for War in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East under “A Three-Theater Defense Strategy”.  Perhaps, the anniversary of D-day should remind them of the more than sixty million lives lost in World War II.[ii]

The West often refers to the “rules-based international order”. That order was defined in the United Nations Charter in 1945 and needed no further elaboration. Have the Western countries abided by the Charter all along? No. President Biden is right to say that the world is at an inflection point. He was right to emphasize his commitment to democracy and freedom in his Normandy speech. Indeed, world peoples, as we do in Türkiye, yearn for democracy and will continue to do so. But for their public discourse on democracy to have a global impact, Western countries must support it with more appealing, consistent foreign and security policies, avoid double standards, and narrow selfish self-interests.

What the world needs today is a reason-based international order focusing on dialogue and conflict resolution, denial of spheres of influence to major powers such as Russia’s “near-abroad”, and the prevention of another world war. Obviously, this is not going to happen in Europe for now. For starters, perhaps, China and India, two major Asian and world powers can try to set an example by settling the long-drawn-out differences.

Last week, a CNN  analysis was titled, “Indian voters reject Modi’s vision for a one-party state in a win for competitive democracy”. Rejection of a one-party state anywhere in the world is good news as we have come to learn in Türkiye. But that was not all.

In the authoritarian, Islamist Middle East, women have a long way to go to make themselves heard in the political arena. Thus, last week’s biggest, and the most joyful and inspiring news was Claudia Sheinbaum’s election as Mexico’s first female president, in a historic landslide win. This election was also historic because it was a battle between two women, Ms. Sheinbaum of the left and Senator Xochitl Galvez of the right.

Thank you, Mexico.