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Compromise not coercion is key to resolving the Russia-Ukraine conflict

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From left to right, the flags of South Africa, Brazil, Russia, India and China during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. Along with several other countries from the Global South, BRICS countries have not signed the peace deal, which has been drafted without Russia, the writer says. Picture: Marco Longari / AFP / August 24, 2023

By David Monyae

Switzerland hosted a heads of state Peace Summit on Ukraine with hopes of kickstarting a peace process between Russia and Ukraine who have been at war since 2022.

However, the agenda, approach and partakers suggested that a peace process was dead on arrival. First, the main protagonist Russia was not invited. Heads of state from influential countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa did not attend.

Joe Biden opted for an election campaign fundraising and sent vice president Kamala Harris and the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. India confirmed its participation but Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent representatives.

China declined the invitation despite the fact that the points on the agenda of the summit coincide with the points raised in the peace plan proposed by Beijing in 2023. Russia dismissed the gathering as irrelevant and a waste of time.

The Swiss government downplayed Russia’s absence arguing that the gathering was not aimed at achieving a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine but to come with a roadmap for peace negotiations that will attract the widest possible support.

Several international conferences have been held before in Copenhagen (Denmark), Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Malta, and Davos (Switzerland) to explore possible avenues for stopping the hostilities in Ukraine. It should be apparent by now that one-sided peace summits without the participation and appreciation of one of the belligerents concerns and interests is little more than a sympathy party that will not restore peace.

More energy must be expended on getting the two sides to the negotiation table and hammering out a peace deal. This means that concessions and compromises will have to be made on both sides.

China and Brazil released a joint proposal in May calling for an international conference recognised by both Russia and Ukraine and that will discuss both countries’ peace plans.

The head of diplomacy of the Republic of Congo said that his country, like the majority of the Global South believes that any peace talks are meaningless if Russia is not included in the negotiations. They are cognisant of the “big game” and partisanship in the conflict and advocate for neutrality, political equality, and mutual respect towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

While they condemned Russia’s invasion, they have voiced concerns over Western hypocrisy in relation to the Israeli Palestinian war, precedents set by Western countries that invaded other countries against international law and faced no consequences, and Nato is on the spot for its invasion of Libya and role in the current crisis in Ukraine.

The agenda of the summit focuses on three points among Ukraine’s ten-point peace plan namely, the protection of Ukraine’s nuclear infrastructure, the protection of Black Sea ports to minimise the disruption of food supply chains, and the exchange of prisoners of war and the return of Ukrainian children allegedly captured by Russia.

How about Russia’s demands? These include the reinstatement of Russia’s Agriculture Bank into the SWIFT system, lifting restrictions on trade in agricultural technology and unfreezing foreign assets belonging to Russia’s agribusinesses.

Vladimir Putin said that the crisis in Ukraine is not a conflict between two states, but the result of the aggressive policy of the West. Russia had concerns over Nato’s increasing presence near its western borders and it considers this a national threat and encroachment on its spheres of influence.

Rather than respond to these concerns, the west responded with sanctions targeting key Russian sectors such as finance, energy, and defence, limiting Russia’s economic power and resources as well as financing and arming Ukraine that served to escalating the conflict rather than deter Russia.

Putin has indicated that Russia is ready to negotiate and has outlined his own conditions that include the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the territory of all new Russian regions and Kiev must not declare any intentions to join Nato. These are legitimate concerns by Russia.

However, the one-sided nature of these conferences suggests that the west is unlikely to compromise on these issues leaving little chance for peace. Putin, rightly, called the conference on Ukraine in Switzerland a ploy to lead the debate on a false track and assert the legitimacy of the Kiev authorities.

In this context, peace cannot be imposed but negotiated taking account of the interests and concerns of all the parties involved. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused China and Russia of putting pressure on other countries in the Global South not to attend the summit. He also claimed that China was supporting Russia in its continued invasion of Ukraine through supplying Moscow with weapons.

Coercion and other old tools of manipulation have become obsolete in the emerging multilateral era that requires consultation, co-ordination and co-operation. The global south is neither pro-Russia nor anti-Ukraine and vice versa, but for a new world order that is just and fair.

David Monyae is the Director of the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg