This weekend’s Swiss peace conference on Ukraine – the Czech perspective

Volodymyr Zelenski and Petr Pavel

This weekend representatives of 90 or so states will be taking part in a conference at the Bürgenstock Resort in Switzerland aimed at finding a route to sustainable peace in Ukraine. Specifically the event will focus on issues such as nuclear safety and security, food safety and prisoner exchanges and the protection of civilians. Formally named the Summit on Peace in Ukraine, it follows other such gatherings based on the Kyiv government’s own peace formula. Notably, however, it will not feature any representation from Russia. What’s more, other major states such as Brazil and China have ignored invitations to attend. Czechia, by contrast will be there, represented by President Petr Pavel and Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Marian – and for Prague’s perspective on the summit I spoke to the latter at the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Czernin Palace on Thursday.

I believe this is the fifth such peace conference for Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion began. What message will you and President Petr Pavel be delivering from Czechia at this conference?

“Russia shouldn’t be hoping for some fatigue on our side.”

“First, this is the first summit on the highest level, on the level of leaders. Before those were meetings on the level of national security advisors or deputy ministers.

“So this is the first meeting of this kind in the Ukrainian peace formula process.

“I think our message will be, first, full support for Ukraine, readiness to provide our full support in the future and readiness to provide long-term support; so Russia shouldn’t be hoping for some fatigue on our side.

“Also a message of unity and of wide international support – this would be the level of participation and the number of participants.

“And also some particular or concrete issues, such as nuclear security; this is why Dana Drábová [chair of the State Office for Nuclear Safety] is also joining the Czech delegation.”

The conferences have been based on Ukraine’s own 10-point peace plan, which includes demands for a return to 1991 borders and war crimes prosecutions. Those demands do seem extremely unlikely to ever be accepted by Russia. How does Czechia view those demands from Ukraine? Aren’t they a block to some kind of peace deal?

“Russia can end this war anytime. In the meantime we have to support Ukraine, and also on the ground.”

“I think they are fully legitimate. We fully stand behind Ukrainian territorial integrity, including Crimea.

“We need to support this peace formula, which is the only one. Now we will have three topics on the table in Switzerland and, of course, once you have wide international attendance you focus on those topics that are easier to tackle or find agreement on, be it the UN Charter, etc.

“This doesn’t mean that we will somehow give up the other points of the plan.

“But of course as to these issues or these points, first it takes two to tango and Russia doesn’t want peace.

“Our ammunition initiative and other initiatives are important. This is something that might create conditions for future peace talks.”

“Currently Russia doesn’t want to leave Ukrainian territory, but this would be the solution. Russia can end this brutal war anytime.

“In the meantime we have to support Ukraine, and in the meantime we also have to support Ukraine on the ground.

“Because the situation on the ground will influence the situation of Russia, and the future outcome of this second Russian aggression.

“So of course in this regard our ammunition initiative and other initiatives are very important, because this is something that might create conditions for some future peace talks, and we don’t know when and how this would happen.”

US President Joe Biden won’t be at the conference and many countries are evidently not taking up invitations to attend. But what really sticks out of course is that Russia won’t be there. In what sense is it going to be a peace conference when the key player in the war isn’t taking part?

“This summit is not about peace negotiations. It’s about providing support to this long-term Ukrainian peace process, peace formula, and gathering international support and maybe creating conditions for some future solution – and maybe one day for talks with Russia, but we are not there yet, obviously.”

Countries like Brazil and China say they won’t participate if the Russians aren’t at the table. How do you view that fact that countries that could potentially have some influence over Russia won’t be there?

Jan Marian | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“Of course we would like to see them on board, and some of them participated in the previous meeting on the expert, or senior officials, level.

“We will definitely continue to reach out to them. This is something that Czechia has been doing also before this event on the level of the Foreign Ministry and also on the level of the president.

“We will continue to do so and we will continue to try to deliver our message about the need to face this Russian aggression, because this has a profound impact, and not only in this region.

“This has an impact on food security, for instance, which is very pertinent to some partners, for instance in Africa, will be discussed in Switzerland.”

Maybe this question is kind of similar, but the conference is being held at Ukraine’s request and is evidently aimed at building consensus around basic principles for a future settlement. But is that possible without some big players?

“I think we can continue even without some players. This is something that has to be done.

“But, as I said, we will continue to talk to China. Because obviously on the one hand China wants to develop international trade with the US and the EU, and operate in some international framework or system.

“On the other hand, China is obviously somehow supporting the Russian aggression. This is why we will need to continue to talk to China, as to this.”

What would you regard as a positive outcome of this weekend’s conference?

“First, the level of participation and the number of participants.

“Second, possibly a joint declaration which should at least confirm the role of the UN Charter.

“And third, concrete issues such as the one I’ve mentioned. This is our issue; we are co-chairs of Working Group 1.

“And furthermore all the bilateral meetings that will take place on the margins of such a big international event, which is always useful. So our delegation will talk to other delegations whom we don’t meet that often.”

This conference is immediately following a G7 summit that begins today, Thursday, and also precedes a NATO summit in Washington next month. Won’t those meetings, especially the NATO summit, be more important when it comes to determining the Western attitude to the war and, as the Guardian said recently, “whether the West wishes not to contain but to defeat him”?

“I think the least we will have to do is to contain Russia in the years, maybe decades, to come.”

“I think the least we will have to do is to, unfortunately, is to contain Russia in the years, maybe decades, to come.

“I think we need to Ukraine to win, which means that Ukraine will be able to control its territory fully.

“And I wouldn’t put it like this as to the many international events, since this is very much about outreach to the countries of South America, Africa.

“And then we have events of allies or like-minded countries, such as the NATO summit.”

You mentioned talks happening on the sidelines of the conference. I’m sure there will be some conversation at least about the Czech artillery initiative. What state is that in right now? We had heard that deliveries would begin in June.

“First, I will not comment on the details. I understand it’s already happening. It’s on the right track, and we will continue to support this.

“We stress to our allies that if we have all of them on board and if all the pledges materialise then we will be able to sustain this not only for the months to come but also for maybe the year, or more, to come.

“I think that we need to demonstrate to Russia that we are ready to continue this long-term support so that there will be, as I said, no Ukraine fatigue in Europe.

“And I don’t think this will be discussed that much here. At the plenary session, for instance, there will be another set-up.

“But it was very much discussed here at the NATO ministerial which we just recently organised here at the Foreign Ministry.”

Even if you can’t go into the details, but how satisfied is Prague with the development so far of the artillery initiative?

“I think we are satisfied. We have some pledges already and we also have some concrete support and it’s already happening, so I would say we are happy.

“We also support other initiatives, such as the Estonian one and the German one on air defence.

“And of course we need to work hand in hand on this either within NATO, which was discussed here recently, or within some like-minded groups.”

Author: Ian Willoughby
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