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How the Ukraine conference in Switzerland aims to find a path to peace

bürgenstock resort
The Bürgenstock resort sits some 400 metres above Lake Lucerne and can be easily sealed-off for security purposes. Keystone / Urs Flueeler

Switzerland is holding a high-level conference on peace in Ukraine on the Bürgenstock mountain on June 15 and 16. Here is an overview of the key aspects of the event.

What are the official goals?

The aim of the conference is to “inspire a future peace process and to develop practical elements as well as steps towards such a process,” the Swiss foreign ministry writesExternal link. Participating states should “contribute their ideas and visions for a just and lasting peace in Ukraine,” it adds.

Originally, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10-point peace planExternal link was to take centre stage. However, as several of the points are unachievable at this stage, the focus will probably be on those that can be supported by most of the participating states: food security (the export of agricultural products from Ukraine), nuclear safety (especially nuclear power plants), and the exchange of prisoners of war and deportees.

How did this conference come about?

On January 15, Zelensky travelled to Bern for an official visit. The topic of discussion was how to proceed after four meetings of national security advisers on the Ukrainian peace formula. Switzerland announced that it would organise a high-level summit.

Switzerland has a lot at stake in the peace conference Keystone / Anthony Anex

This elevated what began as a primarily technical process to the political level. That was entirely in Ukraine’s interests at a time when it was coming under increasing military pressure and as international attention was waning amid the Israeli-Palestinian war.

In the past, Switzerland has repeatedly offered its good offices and a venue for talks between Russia and Ukraine. The organisation of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in 2022 in Lugano is seen in Switzerland as a positive example of how it can act as a mediator. This format was later repeated in other locations and has rallied international support for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

What is Ukraine hoping for?

Zelensky proposed such a conference last year, with as many countries as possible taking part, in order to increase diplomatic pressure on Russia. Zelensky’s core demand is the withdrawal of Russian troops from the entire Ukrainian territory, including Crimea – a position he is not backing down from, despite a military stalemate and weakened solidarity of the West.

Almost two and a half years have passed since the large-scale Russian invasion began. The war is still being fought intensively, but no one party appears set to gain the upper hand in the foreseeable future. For Ukraine, it is important that the war does not disappear from the world’s consciousness, because it continues to rely on military and financial help for its defence.

In the best-case scenario, Ukraine can garner more support for its peace plan. But this requires a critical number of states willing to travel to Switzerland. Ukrainian politician Yelyzaveta (Lisa) Yasko said in an interview with SWI that she is hoping for a coalition of international partners that will involve Russia at a later date and ultimately bring an end to the war.

What is Switzerland hoping for?

Since the start of the large-scale Russian invasion, Switzerland has repeatedly found itself under pressure to act: first with its reluctant acceptance of sanctions against Russia, then because of its refusal to allow the transfer of weapons from Western inventory to Ukraine on the grounds of neutrality.

Added to this was the freezing of Russian oligarchs’ assets, which some governments felt was carried out too defensively. Switzerland does provide humanitarian aid and prioritises humanitarian demining (for which it will host a conferenceExternal link in October). Nevertheless, it has been criticised on various occasions for contributing relatively little.

The government sees Switzerland as a neutral mediator and a place suitable for dialogue. However, neutrality has been discredited on various occasions as opportunism in the wake of Russia’s attack and violation of international law. With its efforts to find a possible peace solution, Switzerland can potentially counter this criticism in a high-profile manner. In addition, Switzerland is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. It therefore has the opportunity to present itself as an advocate of multilateralism in various forums.

As always, such summits are also an opportunity to address bilateral dossiers. Switzerland is economically and politically embedded in the West, which is also where its most important interests lie – and most delegations are expected to come from these countries.

Finally, organising conferences is also a way to gain soft power: Switzerland can show its picture-postcard face on the Bürgenstock and underpin its reputation as a reliable host.

A look at the venue in the picturesque heart of Switzerland:


Who is coming?

Switzerland has invited 160 delegations, and the Swiss foreign ministry is talking about more than 80 official registrations (Ukraine says it has more than 100 confirmations). The definitive list of participants will be published shortly before the start of the conference, when it will also become clear which countries will be represented and at what diplomatic level.

In addition to states, the European Union, United Nations, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the Vatican and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople have also been invited. Half of the acceptances come from Europe, the other half from outside.

The Western world is therefore well represented. The explicit aim was to include as many countries as possible from the so-called Global South. India, an important member of the BRICS states, is attending. But other heavyweights are missing.

Who is not coming?

China and Brazil have declined to attend the conference. Without Russia’s participation, such a meeting would make no sense, they argue. Other countries – especially from the Global South – have not registered for this same reason, or will not be represented at the highest level.

But there is also another reason: several countries (such as China, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey) have launched or offered their own peace initiatives. In fact, several countries have facilitated negotiations between Ukraine and Russia in recent years, such as for prisoner exchanges or the export of grain across the Black Sea.

At a higher level, many countries also see the war as a conflict between the US and Russia. In this context, diplomatic manoeuvring offers an opportunity to increase their own bargaining power.

Why is Russia not coming?

When the conference was announced, Russia quickly and repeatedly made it clear that it would not be attending. On the fringes of a UN Security Council debate, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even informed Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis of this in person. The Swiss government discussed whether to send an invitation anyway, but ultimately refrained amid concern it would be perceived as a provocation after Moscow’s clear rebuff.

In recent weeks, Russia has strongly criticised the conference and put pressure on states not to take part. The Kremlin has long ceased to regard Switzerland as neutral and has labelled it an “openly hostile country”. In addition, Russia’s demands – that Ukraine must be demilitarised and given neutral status – are diametrically opposed to those of Ukraine. Russia has also constitutionally declared already-annexed territories (and some beyond) as Russian territory. Ukraine, for its part, insists on the complete evacuation of Russian troops from its territory.

How do Swiss politicians view the conference?

It is in the nature of diplomatic summits that the extent to which they are a success or a failure only becomes apparent in retrospect. Critical voices abroad, as well as in the Swiss parliament, are lamenting the fact that too few heavyweight states are taking part.

Russian propaganda, which has been targeting Switzerland for weeks, is also causing nervousness in the Swiss parliament. However, some parliamentarians emphasise that initiatives like the peace conference are needed in times of war, even at the risk of failure.

Read what Swiss politicians think of the conference:


Participants have said the conference could conclude with a final document that incorporates as many of Ukraine’s points as possible. It would be an intermediate step in the diplomatic agenda before a future conference, to which other states and even Russia would be invited.

Edited by Marc Leutenegger. Adapted from the German by Catherine Hickley/gw

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR