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Challenge to Find Peace in Ukraine With Diverse Players at Switzerland Summit

Japan and over 80 others pledged their support for peace in Ukraine respecting its full territorial integrity, but crucial players Russia, China were absent.



Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and others pose for a photo at the World Peace Summit in Bürgenstock, Switzerland, on June 15. (©Getty Images/Kyodo)

Japan's Prime Minister used a visit to the Summit for Peace hosted by Switzerland to emphasize a point that he has made regularly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He believes the war there may foreshadow a crisis in East Asia.

Fumio Kishida usually avoids stating bluntly what he means by that warning. However, he is deeply concerned by the actions of Russia, China, and North Korea.

Increasing military cooperation between Russia and North Korea is a particularly troubling development. It also involves saber-rattling over Taiwan by admirals in the Chinese navy.

At the Peace Summit on Ukraine hosted by the Swiss government, the Prime Minister also reminded his listeners that Japan has provided extensive support for Ukraine and imposed strict sanctions on Russia.

Representatives of more than 90 countries and global institutions attended the meeting in the Swiss resort of Bürgenstock. They included other G7 leaders and the United States Vice President Kamala Harris. Several African and South American leaders of the Global South countries also attended. 

Brazil, India, and South Africa, which are BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), sent diplomatic emissaries. 

Russia was not invited. China refused to take part in the event, saying the meeting would not be helpful in the absence of Russia. That point was echoed by Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, who nevertheless did participate. 

PM Kishida arrives in Switzerland for the Summit on Peace in Ukraine. (Courtesy of Cabinet Affairs Office.)

Message from Moscow

Shortly before the summit began, Vladimir Putin offered what he claimed was the basis of a "peace deal." It amounted to a demand for Ukraine to withdraw from the four territories Russia had seized during the war. 

European countries, which feel threatened by Russia, scoffed at the suggestion. The German Chancellor Olaf Sholz said it amounts to a "dictatorial peace." US Vice President Harris said Putin was "not calling for negotiations, he is calling for surrender."

Majority Declaration, but Not Unanimity

The meeting in Switzerland finished with a joint communique signed by 84 countries. It said that "respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states" would "serve as a basis" for resolving the conflict with Russia.

This wording was deemed unacceptable to some nations with close economic ties with Moscow. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said that any credible peace talks would need Russia's participation and would involve "difficult compromise."

Saudi Arabia, India, and the United Arab Emirates chose to abstain from the final communique in Switzerland. Altogether, there was no support from about a dozen participating countries. 

Nevertheless, despite the divergence of viewpoints, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lauded the inclusion of so many countries. He claimed that: "We have managed to avoid one of the most terrible things, namely, the division of the world into opposing blocs."

Prime Minister Kishida added that realizing lasting peace in Ukraine would be symbolic in terms of steering the world to harmony, not to division or confrontation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at the World Peace Summit in Switzerland on June 16. (©Reuters)

Standing Firm

Immediately preceding the conference in Switzerland, Italian host Giorgia Meloni and other G7 leaders ensured that Zelenskyy was given a prominent role at their summit in the Italian venue of Borgo Egnazia.

In Italy, Ukraine, and Japan reached a bilateral agreement on humanitarian support, including clearing landmines. Japan's postwar constitution prevents it from providing lethal military aid to Ukraine. 

A year earlier at the 2023 G7 meeting in Hiroshima, Mr Kishida and other leaders demanded that the Russian army "immediately, completely and unconditionally" withdraw from the entire internationally recognized territory of Ukraine. They said that "a just peace cannot be realized without the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and military equipment, and this must be included in any call for peace".

There has been no change in the position of Japan or the G7 leaders since then. 

At the June 14 meeting between Prime Minister Kishida and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the two leaders also discussed safety at nuclear energy plants. Russian forces have occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility in Ukraine since soon after the Russian invasion. Zelenskyy and his supporters want it returned to the full sovereign control of Ukraine. 

Afterward, Zelenskyy thanked Prime Minister Kishida on social media. He mentioned Japan's "unwavering solidarity with our country and people, as well as its dedication to protecting life and international law."


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent

Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his other articles and essays.