Pakistan, Brazil pull out of Ukraine’s Swiss peace summit

Pakistan, Brazil pull out of Ukraine’s Swiss peace summit
Pakistan and Brazil have added their names to the growing list of non-aligned countries that will not attend the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland. / Bürgenstock Resort AG
By Ben Aris in Berlin June 4, 2024

Pakistan and Brazil have aldded their names to the leading global south countries that will skip Ukraine’s peace summit to be held in Switzerland next week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called on world leaders, especially from the Global South, to attend the event in an effort to bolster international support for Kyiv in its military struggle against Russia.

However, in a crushing blow for the summit’s credibility, leading non-aligned powers including China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have already announced earlier this week they will not attend and India stated that it would only send a token representative on June 3. Zelenskiy criticised Beijing for skipping the event, saying it was working on Russia’s behalf to derail the peace effort.

The White House also confirmed on the same day that US President Joe Biden will not attend, despite being in Europe in the days before the meeting. The US will be represented by Vice President Kamala Harris and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan instead.

Pakistan no-show

Pakistan’s Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch confirmed last week that Pakistan had been invited to the summit, but sources told The Tribune that Islamabad was likely to skip the gathering as part of its efforts to maintain "neutrality."

Sources said that because Russia had not been invited to the summit, Islamabad was worried the summit “might not be useful.” A final decision on attending has yet to be made, the sources reported.

The sources told The Tribune that China’s decision to stay away had played an important role in the decision, as “Pakistan normally takes its cue from China.”

Like many of the non-aligned countries, Pakistan has sought to remain neutral in the East-West clash. Islamabad has never condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and on several occasions has abstained from US-backed moves to denounce Moscow at various United Nations votes on the issue.

At the same time, it hosted the Ukrainian foreign minister in the middle of the conflict and dispatched humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. There were reports that Pakistan had quietly supplied weapons to Ukraine through a third party, but both Kyiv and Islamabad have vehemently denied this.

Brazil is also sitting on the fence and may not show up to the peace summit, almost completing a refusal to participate by all five of the BRICS nations. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has just failed to win a majority in a hard-fought general election and has not commented on attending the Swiss summit as his African National Congress (ANC) party attempts to hang on to its job by forming a coalition.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has suggested an alternative summit be organised by China in which Russia and Ukraine could participate. China and Brazil signed a joint statement last week calling for Russia-Ukraine peace talks, which has been ignored so far.

The Ukrainian World Congress and the Ukrainian-Brazilian Central Representation have sent a letter to Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, calling him to participate in the Global Peace Summit in Switzerland, but Lula has decided not to go.

The Swiss government specifically invited Lula during a personal meeting between Swiss Chancellor Ignazio Cassis and Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira on April 30.

However, in the opinion of Lula and representatives of the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is no point in the Brazilian leader attending a summit that "does not engage both sides in resolving the conflict," RBC Ukraine reports. However, like India, Brazil will send a low-level delegation to the meeting.

US downgrade

Zelenskiy called Biden’s decision a “gift for Putin” and is clearly disappointed. Bankova had hoped that Biden would put in an appearance, given his plans to attend France’s D-Day anniversary celebrations and a meeting of G7 leaders in Italy in the days before the summit.

The White House said in a statement that Biden’s decision to attend a Hollywood fund-raising event with actress Julia Roberts instead was not a reflection on US support for Ukraine.

“The Vice President will underscore the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to supporting Ukraine’s effort to secure a just and lasting peace, based on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the principles of the UN Charter,” the White House said in a statement.

Zelenskiy was critical of the decision, which weakens support for Ukraine. The country is in an existential fight for survival against the more powerful Russian military machine.

“I believe that the peace summit needs President Biden, and other leaders need President Biden because they will look at the US’s reaction,” Zelenskiy said at a press conference in Brussels last week. The US president’s absence “would only be met by an applause by Putin – a personal, standing applause,” he added.

White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby said that the participation of Harris instead of Biden does not mean a lower level of US support for Ukraine. He said no other nation has done as much for Ukraine and its ability to fight back against Russia as the United States, adding that the US supports Zelenskiy’s ten-point peace plan introduced in November 2022.

China and the KSA’s objections to the summit are two-fold: that Russia had not been invited and that there are no plans to discuss any peace plan other than Zelenskiy’s version. China offered its own 12-point peace plan on the first anniversary of the war, but that was dismissed as simply being a statement of the Kremlin’s position, and which would simply freeze the conflict along the current line of contact.

Swiss deny ultimatums

The Swiss summit continues to become more controversial as the Swiss authorities had to deny the summit was facing ultimatums by various would-be delegations. Kyiv has said that over 100 countries will attend, although the Swiss authorities have put the number at closer to 70.

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) cast doubt on Russian claims that focus of the summit will only focus on Zelenskiy’s 10-point plan and said instead the peace conference will discuss nuclear safety, food safety, freedom of navigation and humanitarian aspects, rather than demanding a withdrawal of Russian forces, the FDFA said.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the Russian press she has a copy of the summit’s finalised agenda, which still contains nine of the ten Zelenskiy points, including the “ultimate demand” for Russia to withdraw its troops and return to the 1991 borders, reparations and compensation from frozen Russian assets.

The FDFA told local press that it would not comment directly on Zakharova’s claims but said various peace plans can be presented during the summit. “It remains to be seen whether a final declaration can be agreed at the end of the conference,” the FDFA added.

Separately, the Swiss Council of States, the Upper House of Parliament, has rejected a proposal to provide CHF5bn ($5.5bn) in aid to Ukraine at a meeting on June 3. The aid was part of a larger package worth CHF15bn, but was shot down by parliamentarians because it violates debt spending rules on Swiss military spending.

In April, Switzerland announced that it was planning to strengthen Ukraine's economic development and long-term reconstruction over the next twelve years and will allocate €5bn for this purpose. Switzerland has also frozen around €9bn of Russian oligarch money held in Swiss bank accounts.