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A Ukraine peace deal has never been further away

Volodymyr Zelensky made an address from the charred ruins of a Kharkiv publishing house

May 28, 2024 - 7:00am

On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an address from the charred ruins of a Kharkiv publishing house, encouraging world leaders to attend his “global peace summit” in Switzerland next month and thereby “show who in the world really wants to end the war”.

Russia has not been invited, after Zelensky ruled out talks with Moscow while its troops occupy Ukrainian territory. However, two world leaders were singled out by name as musts for the guest list: Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden, both of whom Zelensky urged to come and “show (their) leadership in advancing peace”.

Although Zelensky claimed that 80 countries have already confirmed their attendance, these two leaders are the most important — and indeed the least likely — to take part. While the US may be Ukraine’s largest backer in its defensive war against Russia, it has not signalled who or at what level it will be represented, with Biden caring so little about the opportunity to visibly stand with Ukraine that he has chosen to attend a Hollywood campaign fundraising dinner instead. No matter how faithfully Zelensky strives for peace, the closer we get to November, the more he will find that the US presidential election campaign overshadows his efforts, whether in terms of the US government’s focus or the international media’s interest.

For his part, Xi is perhaps the one leader with any influence over Vladimir Putin, but he’s clearly using the summit as an opportunity to benefit Russia’s President and ensure him a place at any negotiating table. Yesterday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson refused to comment on reports that Beijing would send only a low-level delegation and noted that China will “support an international peace conference held at a proper time that is recognised by both Russia and Ukraine, with equal participation of all parties”. This comes after China and Brazil threw their weight behind the rival idea of an international summit at which Moscow would be permitted to participate.

While the Russian government may not be invited to June’s event, it is doing all it can to make its presence felt. While Zelensky may have chosen the backdrop of a still smouldering printing works for his address so as to provide a shocking demonstration of the impact of Russian aggression, it also served as a symbol of the perilous situation in which Ukraine finds itself. He used the same address to warn that “Russia is preparing for offensive operations 90 kilometres northwest from here”, raising the question of whether Ukraine can truly expect Russia to offer a peace deal when it has Kiev’s forces on the defensive on the battlefield. Having put its economy on a war footing and with the prospect of Donald Trump potentially returning to the White House shortly, Russia has no incentive to consider peace now.

That may explain why Moscow is endeavouring to throw the forthcoming summit into disarray. Last week, Russian sources told Reuters that Moscow is willing to freeze the conflict along the current frontlines, having made sufficient gains to sell it to the Russian people as a victory. Meanwhile, asked about peace talks on Friday, Putin replied: “Let them resume”. However, these signs were, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, “phoney signals” intended to derail the June summit. As such, any future bids by Ukraine to unify global opinion around a peace plan are likely to be subject to similar Russian feints aimed at distracting from and undercutting Ukrainian efforts.

The difficulties in getting negotiations up and running have long been apparent, with the warring parties remaining poles apart on key issues. Moscow has claimed that Ukraine must recognise the “new territorial realities” represented by its battlefield gains, dismissing Zelensky’s peace formula calling for the return of annexed territories. However, as Ukraine struggles to head off Russian offences on the battlefield, the US government becomes consumed by its forthcoming election, and Moscow prepares for a significant summer offensive, the time has never been less propitious for a peace deal.


Bethany Elliott is a writer specialising in Russia and Eastern Europe.

BethanyAElliott

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Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago

A Ukraine peace deal has indeed never been further away, because Russia is led by a war-mongering tyrant, whom nobody would trust to keep any peace deal he entered into anyway. The West is going to have to deal with Russia at some point. It might as well do it now.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

Off you go then! Best of luck…do let us know how you get on…

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

Not really too difficult for Putin to agree to hang onto the 80% of the Ukraine Russia has already annexed. There’s your ‘buffer deal’ with NATO.
Were it to be agreed then everyone would save money but stopping making as much. I suppose they would from reconstruction then, even if that’s a different set of people though doutblessly involving the same Swiss bank accounts.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

In Korea much of battle-lines had ossified by early 51, but it wasn’t until 53 that an armistice was signed. History doesn’t entirely repeat itself but there are some similarities.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

The parallels with Korea are eerie. That conflict is cited by many as the beginning of the first Cold War. History may well remember Ukraine as the beginning of the second.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
1 month ago

This appalling person, bestriding the world dressed as the Action Man toy calling for permanent war in Europe, is worth every cent of the $64 billion that the Washington neocons have deposited in his and his political/business friends’ Swiss bank accounts.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 month ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Thank you Vladimir P; good to know that you still have time to post here amongst so many cares and responsibilities

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
1 month ago

Zelensky’s problem is that in order to force any meaningful climbdown by Russia, Ukraine needs more soldiers and a bigger supply of costly weapons. Nobody will be supplying the former and the desire and ability on the part of the West to supply the latter is waning.
While it seems the moral support for Ukraine remains strong the fact is Ukraine just isn’t talked about much anymore. Here in Canada the top issues are domestic: immigration, spiraling debt, inflation, cost of living and housing costs. The top international story is the Israel-Hamas war mostly because it has ripped the veil off of progressive anti-Semitism. Of course Canada hasn’t been a big contributor to the Ukraine effort because we have nothing anyway. Zelensky is currently complaining because the $400M NASAMS battery that Canada promised is a year overdue. Canada can really only shrug in response because the US plant that produces said systems (Canada is just paying for one) is behind schedule. Zelensky can now identify with the average DIY shopper. “When it comes in we’ll let you know”.
The November election is Ukraine’s biggest problem and Ukraine isn’t a top issue there either. IMO, Zelensky is rightfully concerned that if Trump wins the pressure will be put on to get a deal done which almost certainly means re-drawing Ukrainian borders. Whether or not Ukrainian ultra-nationalists can live with that sort of compromise is another question.

Matt F
Matt F
1 month ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

Ukraine needs more soldiers and a bigger supply of costly weapons. Nobody will be supplying the former and the desire and ability on the part of the West to supply the latter is waning. Unfortunately there’s no such lack of will or ability on the part of Putin’s Iranian and North Korean backers.

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt F

You forgot the main backer China

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
1 month ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

Putin can’t wait for the US election so he can make a “deal” with Trump, the real dictators Xi and Putin are looking forward to use the wannabe dictator for their purposes and gains. More love letters from Kim Jung Un will flatter Trump to North Korean designs. The decline and rot of the west will continue, poor Ukraine will be toast. So much for the unequivocal support until Ukraine wins from 2 years ago.

T Bone
T Bone
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Canuck

Did you steal that from Morning Joe’s monologue?

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
1 month ago
Reply to  T Bone

Who’s morning Joe

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

Seems like far too many American weapons and ship building plants are ‘behind schedule’ lately. It’s a worrying trend. One hopes it’s just a case of a peacetime defense industry coming up against the unpredictable demands of war and a lopsided motivation whereby Russia is mobilized entirely for war and the west is not. The US isn’t exactly trying very hard at this point. Like the last dozen or so conflicts the US has involved itself in directly or indirectly, they’re trying to fight the war on the cheap and use it as a football to play domestic politics. This is no way to fight a war. I suppose one could criticize Zelensky for relying on American aid but what choice did he have. Maybe he could have accepted peace talks in 2022 but even then I doubt the Russians would have accepted anything less than full independence for the Donbas and a permanent recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. To put the matter plainly, when great powers fight proxy conflicts, it generally sucks to be the proxy. It’s an imbalance of motivations. The proxy is in existential danger and wants unlimited support but the power behind the proxy is not in any real peril and calculating the costs and benefits of the conflict to their overall interests. The Ukraine war is one theater of conflict in a geopolitical power game, and may not be the most important (it isn’t). Further, it’s just one issue among dozens of others for politicians in an election. In this case, the concerns of the Biden administration and the establishment are firmly fixed on defeating Trump, and they’re not wrong. From the point of view of the American military industrial complex and international global aristocrat class, Trump represents a possible turn towards American isolationism which the people might well support. They too are in an existential conflict. It’s not a war, but it’s a threat just as real as Putin is to Ukraine.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

On the cheap? $100 Billion so far and absolutely nothing to show for it except large bonuses for the top brass at the defense contractors.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 month ago

Biden is in a bind here; the more he supports Ukraine, the more he gifts votes to his opponent. So much better for him to attend a fundraiser for himself than a peace conference. If he gets back in, then things will change

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
1 month ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

With Biden still trailing Trump in the polls, it’s scary to think how far he might go. If he manages to engineer a conviction in the New York kangaroo court, I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts Trump in prison and rounds up his supporters too. If he can’t win the election, the Democrats may prefer to cancel it.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 month ago
Reply to  Bryan Dale

Whatever Biden’s faults, and they are legion, he is a democrat and a constitutionalist. He will accept the result and give up office.

In fact, if the system sends Trump to prison and disqualifies him from running, that would be a massive gain for the Republicans who would then be able to put up a strong candidate and win easily in November

Hans Daoghn
Hans Daoghn
1 month ago

I am throwing a birthday party for my neighbor.  You are invited.  So is everyone except my neighbor who has been quite a pill lately.  

B Emery
B Emery
1 month ago

‘. While the US may be Ukraine’s largest backer in its defensive war against Russia, it has not signalled who or at what level it will be represented, with Biden caring so little about the opportunity to visibly stand with Ukraine that he has chosen to attend a Hollywood campaign fundraising dinner instead’

WHY is Biden not going.

WHY is he not taking responsibility for Americas part in this war.

How is a dinner in Hollywood more important than resolving a conflict that his own government said could turn in ww3.
How is it over a hundred countries can get their arses in gear and attend, yet America, one of the most important countries involved, can’t be ARSED.
Thousands of people have died and are being shelled on a daily basis, but Bidens off for a nice dinner.

‘Mr Zelensky said his key ally’s possible absence “would only be applauded by Putin, personally applauded by Putin, and it would be a standing ovation”.

Reports suggest President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are set to miss the summit. Although some form of US representation is expected, the president’s absence would be a huge blow for Ukraine.’

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/cw99d97qq7zo

DIPLOMACY NOW. NOT DINNER.

p3rfunct0ry 4p4th3t1c
p3rfunct0ry 4p4th3t1c
1 month ago

Nice to see Kiev spelled correctly.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago

This is like when a colleague at work who you don’t like and who doesn’t like you invites you to their after works birthday celebration drinks in the pub. They know they HAVE to ask you and you know you have to have a prior engagement to quote.