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Vice President Harris headed to Switzerland for talks on peace in Ukraine

The summit will tailor its focus on nuclear security, food security and the return of prisoners of war and abducted children.
Vice President Kamala Harris.
Posted at 8:40 PM, Jun 14, 2024

Dozens of world leaders, including Vice President Kamala Harris, will convene in Switzerland this weekend for a summit on Peace in Ukraine — without Russia.

The summit marks the latest signal of support for the war-torn country, with at least 80 of 160 delegations invited expected to attend.

The Swiss describe the summit as a high-level conference to provide a foundation for future discussions. While Zelenskyy has outlined a 10-point peace plan, the summit will tailor its focus on nuclear security, food security and the return of prisoners of war and abducted children.

Harris, who will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy while there, is expected to underscore the global stakes of the conflict, as the U.S. looks to show support for Ukraine’s efforts to secure peace.

“You can expect the vice president to make clear that Ukraine's fight is not just about Ukraine. The stakes are global. The outcome of this conflict affects the entire world. What is at stake is international, long-standing international rules and norms, and we believe that if we allow an aggressor like Putin to violate these principles with impunity, all nations are threatened, because aggressors around the world would become emboldened,” said one administration official, who previewed the trip to reporters on the condition of anonymity.

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

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The summit comes ahead of the NATO leaders' summit in Washington next month, on the heels of major U.S. engagements with Ukraine, including President Biden and Zelenskyy meeting in France around the anniversary of D-Day and in Italy at the G7 summit. There, allies agreed to use frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine and the U.S. and Ukraine signed a 10-year bilateral security agreement. Harris is expected to continue the message that has tied the events together, about defending the international rules-based order.

However, experts are watching how the summit balances immediate needs against long-term goals.

“As you look at a peace summit when there is still such an active hot conflict going on in Ukraine, I am very interested in how they balance short-term needs versus long-term planning,” said Catherine Sendak, the director of transatlantic defense and security at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

While Harris’ attendance is a critical signal, she also needs to bring specifics, according to Sendak.

“I think the vice president needs to come with a strong message, and it can’t be 'as long as it takes.' It has to be more substantial,” Sendak said.

The administration defines success out of the summit in part by the number of countries to support Ukraine’s peace vision. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who will represent the U.S. during the summit’s second day, encouraged the Ukrainians to get as many countries to sign up as possible, according to a senior administration official.

“I think that in itself is a message to Russia, and that would be a definition of success,” the official said.

However, key players will also be absent from the table.

China, which the U.S. has criticized for its support of Russia through dual-use goods, is not expected to attend.

“Rather than putting forward unrealistic peace proposals, we would like to see China get on board with all of these other countries that are going to be represented in Switzerland, to underscore those points,” said the official.

But Zelenskyy appeared to leave the door open for dialogue.

“If China has alternative view on it, it can prepare alternative peace formula ... if they share the same way to peace, we will find dialogue,” said Zelenskyy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Meanwhile, Russia was not invited.

Ahead of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin put forth his own plan he claims would lead to a stop in fighting, but rebuked Ukraine’s vision by demanding Ukraine withdraw from territory Russia claims and abandon its vision to join NATO.

"You know Putin has occupied, illegally occupied, sovereign Ukrainian territory. He is not in any position to dictate to Ukraine what they must do to bring about a peace,” said U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

“I think in some ways, Zelenskyy's purpose here is to win over hearts and minds — to bring to the table the leaders of many countries ... that have really been sitting on the fence," said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They haven't come down hard against Russia. They're more concerned about food shortages, supply chain disruptions, energy prices, than they are about Russia's act of aggression. And I think in many respects, what the Ukrainians are trying to do here is to say, 'Listen, we need your support. We need your help. We need you behind us.' And so I would say that the PR, the winning-over the course of world opinion, is in many respects more important than any concrete takeaways that could emerge from the meeting.”