A Challenging Climb May Begin at the Peak: Reflections on the Swiss-hosted Summit on Peace in Ukraine

Doubts are growing regarding the relevance of the Swiss-hosted Summit on Peace in Ukraine given the absence of Russia and the influential states from the so-called Global South. Our researcher Philip Poppelreuter explains why the summit constitutes an important effort towards a negotiated settlement of the war in Ukraine. He also reflects on the determinants of the summit’s success.

On behalf of Ukraine, Switzerland has invited more than 160 delegations to attend a Summit on Peace in Ukraine at the Bürgenstock resort above Lake Lucerne on 15-16 June 2024. Swiss organisers hope the summit will initiate high-level discussions about a peace process to end the war in Ukraine. Russia’s absence has caused skepticism regarding the summit’s relevance. Indications that influential states from the Global South will deliberately stay away from the summit have amplified those doubts. This blog puts the summit into perspective and reflects on its relevance and prospects of success.

Embedding the summit in the broader context of the war in Ukraine

Almost 28 months after the beginning of the Russian invasion, the fighting inside Ukraine continues unabated. Russia’s marginal territorial gains in the Kharkiv area in the Spring of 2024 suggest that the war has not reached a mutually hurting stalemate yet, which constitutes one of the key conditions under which conflict parties are willing to start negotiations. However, experts such as the Swedish army chief Micael Bydén continue to assess a military victory of either Ukraine or Russia as unlikely in the short and medium run. A negotiated settlement therefore remains the most likely path to end the war in Ukraine. 

A clear pathway towards a negotiated settlement is yet to take shape. Previous mediation efforts launched by state leaders from Türkiye, Brazil, a coalition of five African states under the leadership of South Africa, and the Vatican since February 2022 have failed to gain traction. Creating a conducive environment for negotiations between Ukraine and Russia remains challenging as of June 2024.

Our research shows that peace negotiations are inherently complex and technical and require thorough preparation over a prolonged period. In combination with continued fighting and the failure of past mediation initiatives, it is therefore important to manage expectations regarding the results that the Summit on Peace in Ukraine may generate.

Specifically, the summit does not constitute an isolated event. It builds on four meetings of Northern and Southern national security advisers since June 2023, who gathered in Copenhagen, Jeddah, Malta, and Davos to discuss Ukraine’s Peace Formula. 

While initially announced as a peace conference in January 2024, Russia’s absence implies that the summit will not make peace. The summit will not touch on contested issues such as a ceasefire or Ukraine’s territorial borders. Its agenda will rather focus on three concrete thematic issue areas, including humanitarian issues, freedom of navigation and food security, and nuclear safety.

That said, it is important to highlight the summit’s three-fold ambition, namely:

  • Initiating high-level dialogue on what a comprehensive, just, and sustainable peace for Ukraine could look like
  • Promoting consensus among participating states on how to achieve that goal;
  • Developing a roadmap for involving Russia in the process of moving forward.

Those intentions highlight the summit’s potential and relevance in paving the way toward a negotiated settlement of the war in Ukraine. First, it brings negotiations as a potential option for ending the war back on the international agenda. This is particularly laudable against the backdrop of the ongoing polarisation around the summit and the war more generally (see below). Any peace process must start somewhere after all.

Second, the summit strives to make an unprecedented effort among Western supporters of Ukraine to start exploring the design of a peace process that all conflict parties regard as viable. Specifically, the clearly stated intention to discuss how Russia’s future participation in the process could be ensured offers a promising entry point for a peace process involving both Ukraine and Russia to take shape. Corresponding discussions during the summit are likely to increase political buy-in for the process among Southern states such as China and Brazil.

Third, the ambition to formulate a roadmap for involving Russia signals the summit organisers’ commitment to stay engaged in the preparation of a peace process. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis announced at a press conference on 10 June 2024 that Switzerland will be willing to support a potential follow-up conference to the summit. Those signals create hope that meaningful high-level efforts to reach a negotiated settlement of the war in Ukraine will continue beyond the 16th of June.

Who will be there? 

The organisers of the summit will only publish the final list of participating states and organisations on Friday evening, 14 June. 90 states and organisations have indicated that they will participate as of 10 June. That number might still increase or decrease on short notice until the summit kicks off. 

Switzerland’s decision to exclude Russia from the invitation list is no reason to dismiss the summit right away. First, the Kremlin had sent strong signals from the onset that it would have refused to participate, even if it had been invited. Second, Kyiv’s and Moscow’s perceptions of acceptable solutions to the war remain opposed. While Russia would have to be part of any negotiated solution, direct talks between both conflict parties are currently unfeasible. 

The confirmed absence of some influential states from the Global South including China, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia constitutes a more serious blow to the summit’s prospects of success. Türkiye and South Africa are yet to confirm their participation or abstention. India has committed to attend the summit but remains silent on the composition of its delegation. Russia’s aggressive propaganda efforts to discredit the summit over the past few weeks have likely contributed to the reluctance among Southern states to confirm their participation.

It remains to be seen which country will be represented at the summit and at what level. Importantly, the rank of individual delegations’ members is not decisive. A high-level representative of any participating state would be a strong signal regarding the importance that a state attaches to the summit. If reluctant Southern states ultimately decided to send junior delegates this would demonstrate their interest in the summit and ambition to shape the discussions there. This would bode well for the number of actively involved Southern states in the follow-up of the summit.

That said, moving forward, it will be important for summit participants to commit to and plan for incorporating civil society actors, whose networks, expertise, and creativity will be an asset in ongoing efforts to initiate a peace process.

At the same time, it is important to stress that the summit may still achieve the goals outlined above, even if it ends up being dominated by Western supporters of Ukraine. The substance of the discussions during the summit will be a key determinant in this regard.

What will be discussed? 

Specifically, irrespective of which influential Southern states will be present at the summit, Western supporters of Ukraine will have to deliver on their ambition to turn the summit into more than just a support conference for Ukraine. Dedicating sufficient time to discuss options and the next steps towards setting up a peace process that features Ukraine and Russia will be conducive.

Regarding the potential results of the summit, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis confirmed on 10 June that a final declaration was already being prepared. If a final declaration ultimately materialises, it would ideally present a roadmap, however vague, on the next steps of the initiative to bring Russia and Southern states on board. This would provide a tangible foundation for summit participants to build on over the next months. Summit participants’ willingness to implement any such roadmap moving forward will be equally important to amplify the summit’s impact and thereby turn it into a success. 

Other preparatory activities towards a negotiation process would ideally be embarked on in parallel. Forming expert groups on potential negotiation topics, forging civil society alliances to capitalise on their subject matter expertise, networks, and mediation skills, and developing communication strategies around a negotiated settlement of the war will allow influential stakeholders to capitalise on the momentum created by the summit. 

Overall, the summit at the Bürgenstock resort offers a concrete entry point toward a negotiated settlement of the war in Ukraine. It is a laudable move from Switzerland to host it. Informed conclusions about the summit’s success will only be possible to draw in the future. For now, it is important to give the summit and potential follow-up activities to initiate a peace process a chance.


Preparing for peace: Getting to a negotiated settlement of the war in Ukraine. A proposal for getting to and setting up peace talks

This report provides ideas and options for a framework for reaching a negotiated settlement of the war in Ukraine. It draws on comparative evidence to illustrate what the negotiation process could look like, but it deliberately refrains from discussing the substance of any potential agreement.

January 2023|Philip Poppelreuter, Thania Paffenholz, Nick Ross, Alexander Bramble,

Briefing Note,

Briefing Note: Negotiating an End to the War in Ukraine: Ideas and Options to Prepare for and Design a Negotiation Process

This briefing note provides a summary of Inclusive Peace's full research report that draws on comparative evidence to explore ideas and options to prepare for and design a negotiation process to end the war in Ukraine.

August 2023|Philip Poppelreuter, Thania Paffenholz, Nick Ross, Alexander Bramble,

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Verhandlungen über ein Ende des Krieges in der Ukraine

Diese Kurzinformation bietet eine Zusammenfassung des umfassenden Forschungsberichts von Inclusive Peace, der vergleichende Evidenz nutzt, um Ideen und Optionen für einen Verhandlungsrahmen zur Beendigung des Krieges in der Ukraine, sowie die Vorbereitungen eines Verhandlungsprozesses zu geben.

September 2023|Philip Poppelreuter, Thania Paffenholz, Nick Ross, Alexander Bramble,