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From Symbolism to Substance: How to Make the Peace Summit Matter

by Raphael Lapin - 11 June, 2024, 12:00 266 Views 0 Comment

More than 90 world leaders are expected to converge at the Bürgenstock Resort above Lake Lucerne on June 15th and 16th for a Peace Summit. The stated goal is to chart a course for a just and lasting peace in Ukraine. However, as I peruse the reports about this summit, I find myself scratching my head in bewilderment, blinking a few times, and rereading to ensure I understand correctly.

Two aspects, in particular, strike me as rather absurd. Firstly, for any peace process to yield tangible results, all parties involved in the conflict must be active participants. Holding a peace summit with only one of the disputing parties is akin to staging a duel with only one duelist present. Conspicuously absent from this summit is Russia, a key party deliberately excluded, despite the fact that no peace agreement can materialize without their consent.

The second point of apparent absurdity is President Zelensky’s appeal to summit attendees to “force” Russia into peace based on ten demands set forth by Kyiv. These demands include the return of all invaded territory, reparations for war-related damages, and the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes. The absurdity lies in President Zelensky’s expectation that President Putin would readily agree to such terms.

This quixotic expectation of President Zelensky is, regrettably, fueled by the West. By endorsing his narrative—whether due to naïveté or because it aligns with Western interests in perpetuating the conflict—we have led him to believe that defeating Russia is achievable as long as Western aid and funds continue. This has instilled in him a hope for an elusive and unattainable victory. It is this false sense of hope and confidence that emboldens him to make such unrealistic demands of Putin.

To call this gathering a “Peace Summit” in its current form, with an agenda of bolstering and sustaining President Zelensky’s misguided narrative, is as absurd as labelling a Trump campaign event a “Bipartisan Convention.” As it stands, a genuine opportunity to advance prospects for peace is being squandered.

The Missing Keys

To fully leverage the opportunity this summit offers and genuinely create a path towards peace, we need to reassess and reevaluate our objectives. To shift the agenda from a Ukraine-biased convention to one that lays an authentic foundation for peace, here are three key objectives for the Peace Summit:

  1. Recalibrating President Zelensky’s Expectations: President Zelensky appears to have an overly optimistic view of Ukraine’s battlefield position. His belief in a potential victory, a sentiment echoed by Western allies, is both unrealistic and counterproductive. Historically, Russia has a formidable track record in conflicts, having only lost the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. They defeated Napoleon in 1812, prevailed in both World Wars, and are unlikely to capitulate to Ukraine. Zelensky’s expectations need adjustment. He must understand that no peace agreement with Russia will be entirely on his terms. Negotiation and compromise are essential to prevent further loss and devastation for his people. Summit leaders can best support him by encouraging a realistic perspective, rather than reinforcing his inflated confidence.
  1. Russia’s Participation: For this summit to pave the way towards peace, it is crucial that all parties involved in the dispute are represented. Every party must feel acknowledged, heard, and understood, even if consensus is not reached.

In October 1939, Sir Winston Churchill famously remarked: “I cannot forecast to you the actions of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. The key is Russian national interest.” The West has overlooked this vital key. Instead of thoroughly investigating Russia’s true interests and concerns, they have imposed their own most negative interpretations of what they believe Russian interests to be.

Without Russian representatives at the summit, we miss a critical opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue about their real interests and concerns. This dialogue is essential for the West to gain a coherent understanding and for Russia to feel genuinely heard and taken seriously. Without it, Churchill’s key to unlocking the Russian enigma will remain elusive, and the door to peace will stay firmly closed.

  1. Talks about the Talks: The third objective for the Peace Summit should be to engage all parties in discussions about a framework, process, and structure of future peace negotiations. They should collaborate on designing potential peace talks, including details such as the location, participants, whether the negotiations will be direct or indirect, and the involvement of a mediator and a timeline. This would result in a concrete, meaningful and impactful outcome from the summit, ensuring its lasting significance. 

In conclusion, the Peace Summit at Bürgenstock Resort stands at a critical juncture. It has the potential to be a landmark event that ushers in a new era of dialogue and reconciliation. However, for it to transcend mere symbolism and yield tangible progress, a paradigm shift in approach is imperative. The summit must move beyond a narrow focus on supporting President Zelensky’s ambitious demands and instead embrace a comprehensive strategy that acknowledges the complexities of the conflict and the necessity of compromise.

By recalibrating President Zelensky’s expectations, ensuring Russia’s participation, and setting the stage for structured and inclusive future negotiations, this summit can lay a genuine foundation for lasting peace. Only through mutual understanding and the inclusion of all parties involved can we hope to break the cycle of conflict and foster a sustainable resolution. The stakes are high, and the world watches with bated breath, hoping that this summit will not merely be a footnote in history but a pivotal moment that heralds the dawn of peace in Europe. The path to peace is fraught with challenges, but with courage, wisdom, and a renewed commitment to dialogue, a just and lasting resolution is within our grasp.

Raphael Lapin
Author is a Harvard-trained negotiation, mediation, and dispute resolution specialist. Based in Southern California, he has played a pivotal role in resolving complex disputes and has influenced key international negotiations. With extensive practical experience, Raphael is renowned for his ability to navigate and resolve intricate conflicts, making him a sought-after advisor and mediator worldwide.
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