Ukraine Peace Summit: Some Modest Breakthroughs for Kyiv

19 juin 2024
Le point de vue de Jean de Gliniasty

Last weekend in Switzerland, 90 heads of state gathered around the Ukrainian President for a high-level conference on peace in Ukraine. Although China and Russia were absent from these negotiations, the conference resulted in 79 states signing a communiqué based on the three points that President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted to address. Despite some progress, Ukraine’s strategy of rallying the countries of the Global South did not work, as demonstrated by the fact that not a single member of the BRICS+ signed the final communiqué. What can we learn from this peace conference? What are the military prospects for this conflict? How is the Russian ‘war economy’ faring? Find out from Jean de Gliniasty, former French ambassador to Russia, Senior Research Fellow at IRIS and a specialist in Russian issues.

Over the weekend, Switzerland hosted a high-level conference on peace in Ukraine, attended by almost 90 heads of state, representatives of international organisations and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. What were the objectives of this summit? Did Ukraine obtain any advances or guarantees?

President Volodymyr Zelensky himself specified the limits of the exercise. The main aim was to strengthen Ukraine’s diplomatic position in the unlikely event of negotiations. On the other hand, the term « peace summit » is inappropriate given that one of the belligerents, Russia, had not been invited. Ukraine also had to scale down its ambitions in order to attract as many states from the « Global South » as possible. The ten-point plan that Volodymyr Zelensky had presented to the G20 Summit in Bali in November 2022, including the withdrawal of Russian troops to the 2014 borders, financial compensation and indemnities for Ukraine and bringing Russian leaders to justice, could not be endorsed. In order to obtain the agreement of the southern countries to the final communiqué, only three points of the Zelensky Plan were put on the agenda: nuclear safety, and in particular the safety of the Zaporija power station, food safety and the possibility for Kyiv to export its cereals, and the return of Ukrainian prisoners and children taken to Russia. Within these limits, and with Switzerland’s support, Ukraine has achieved significant results. More than a hundred delegations were present, and the final communiqué on the three points addressed, which also reiterates the need to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of each State, including Ukraine, was initialled by 79 States. But none of the BRICS member countries wanted to play along, either by boycotting the meeting or by refusing to endorse the communiqué, which had been stylized to attract their approval. The Global South did not rally to the Ukrainian cause. On the other hand, Russia presented, as a counter-fire, a peace plan with its own demands: withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the four regions annexed by Russia but not completely conquered (Zaporija, Kherson and Donetsk…) and the neutrality of Kyiv in relation to NATO. Described as a request for capitulation, notably by France, this plan is the first clear expression of Russian demands, apart from the nebulous talk of the denazification of Ukraine. Now everyone knows that the next step will necessarily be a conference with Russia, and many candidates are lining up to host it. But this is still a time of war.

With the conflict bogged down and the Ukrainian forces experiencing major difficulties, what is the situation on the front line? What are the military prospects, particularly in the Black Sea where fighting is intensifying?

The more time goes by, the stronger the Ukrainian position becomes and the less likely it is that the front will be overturned in favour of the Russians. But the Russians are nibbling away from village to village and the gap in numbers will remain permanent, to the detriment of Kyiv. Putin has announced that he now has 700,000 troops in Ukraine, while Ukraine is struggling to implement its mobilisation law, which was adopted too late. As a result, a Russian breakthrough is becoming less and less likely, though not totally impossible. In the Black Sea, Ukraine has won the battle in the sense that Russia has lost control of the sea. In fact, in this enclosed sea, the range of Ukrainian missiles and drones based on land is enough to prevent any manoeuvre by large units. Maritime space is thus neutralised, while bombing raids on Crimea are almost a daily occurrence. If the war continues, it is not impossible that the Russians will try to control the entire coastline in order to regain control of the sea, but that would mean taking Odessa, which would be difficult and very costly, and above all would provoke a strong reaction from the West, which would then fear a destabilisation of the Balkans.

How are the Russian war effort and war economy organised? Is the « special military operation », as it is called in Russia, still supported by the population?

Russia has prepared itself for a long war. The arrival of a new defence minister, Andrei Belooussov, who is reputed to be honest and a good manager, the purging of generals and deputy defence ministers for various reasons or pretexts (corruption, incompetence, changes of team, etc.), and the mobilisation of the military-industrial apparatus, have set the country up in a sort of « war economy » where military spending accounts for 7% of the budget. But apart from inflation (over 8%), labour shortages and subsequent wage increases, life went on as before in the big cities and, with a few rare exceptions, there were no requisitions in civilian industry. The high salaries, substantial enlistment bonuses, compensation for relatives in the event of death in combat, care for invalids and the facilities and honours accorded to veterans (a novelty in Russia) were enough to calm the generally modest families of enlisted men for the time being. Above all, the theme of the « collective West » besieging and seeking to destroy Russia has taken hold of the population at all levels. The majority would like peace, but reflexes of « legitimacy » and patriotism are working in favour of the authorities, who are currently under no domestic pressure to end the war. However, some clouds are gathering. Gas sales have fallen, and oil sales (the main resource) are likely to come up against new sanctions, on liquefied natural gas for example, which has been exempt until now. Russia has had to draw on half of the reserves in its Sovereign Wealth Fund and raise taxes on individuals and businesses in order to balance a 2024 budget, 40% of which is earmarked for defence. In 2023, Russia recorded a sharp fall in its trade surplus ($50 billion compared with $238 billion in 2022, a surplus boosted by the exceptional rise in gas prices). Tensions on the labour market, the resurgence of inflation and a key interest rate of 16% that is hampering investment are also handicaps. In the meantime, after a growth rate of 3.6% in 2023, the Russian authorities have just revised the 2024 growth rate upwards to 2.8%. Buoyed by the « war economy » and skilfully managed, the state of the Russian economy and the mood of the population will continue to give the Russian government considerable room for manoeuvre in waging its war.


Translated by Deepl.
Sur la même thématique