Ukraine pitches peace conference even as Russia issues threat

Ukraine’s foreign minister said the country wanted a UN peace summit by February, but it’s unlikely Russia will join.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks during a high level meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the situation amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, U.S., September 22, 2022. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (right), seen speaking here at a UN Security Council meeting on Russia's invasion, on September 22, 2022, has now proposed a UN-led peace conference by February. [Amr Alfiky/Reuters]

Ukraine’s foreign minister has said that his nation wants a summit to end the war but he does not anticipate Russia taking part at a time when both sides are locked in intense battlefield exchanges.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the Associated Press news agency that his government wants a “peace” summit within two months at the United Nations with Secretary-General António Guterres as mediator.

But the likelihood of any progress towards peace appears slim, with Kuleba’s Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov threatening Kyiv with an ultimatum on Monday to either accept the surrender of territory currently controlled by his country or the Russian army would decide Ukraine’s fate.

The UN responded cautiously to Kuleba’s proposal.

“As the secretary-general has said many times in the past, he can only mediate if all parties want him to mediate,” UN associate spokeswoman Florencia Soto Nino-Martinez said.

Kuleba said Russia must face a war crimes tribunal before his country talks with Moscow directy. He said, however, that other nations should feel free to engage with Russians, as happened before a grain agreement between Turkey and Russia.

Kuleba also said he was “absolutely satisfied” with the results of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the US last week. He revealed that Washington had made a special plan to get the Patriot missile battery ready to be operational in the country in less than six months. Usually, the training takes up to a year.

Kuleba said during the interview at the foreign ministry that Ukraine will do whatever it can to win the war in 2023. “Every war ends in a diplomatic way,” he said. “Every war ends as a result of the actions taken on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”

Commenting on Kuleba’s proposal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state RIA Novosti news agency that Russia “never followed conditions set by others. Only our own and common sense.”

A Kremlin spokesman said last week that no Ukrainian peace plan can succeed without taking into account “the realities of today that can’t be ignored” — a reference to Moscow’s demand that Ukraine recognise Russia’s sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed in 2014, as well as other territorial gains.

Lavrov, in his comments on Monday, echoed those demands, with an added threat.

“Our proposals for the demilitarisation and denazification of the territories controlled by the regime, the elimination of threats to Russia’s security emanating from there, including our new lands, are well known to the enemy,” state news agency TASS quoted Lavrov as saying late on Monday. “The point is simple: Fulfil them for your own good. Otherwise, the issue will be decided by the Russian army,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov’s comments contrast with statements from Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent days claiming a willingness to negotiate. Yet they fit a pattern that has long defined the war since Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine in February.

At different stages of the past 10 months, Russian and Ukrainian officials have emphasised a desire to engage in diplomacy to end the war, yet almost never at the same time.

Kuleba’s call for a peace conference comes a month after Zelenskyy made a long-distance presentation to the G20 summit in Bali, articulating a 10-point peace formula that includes the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression and security guarantees for Ukraine. 

The UN would be the most appropriate host for a peace summit, Kuleba said, “because this is not about making a favour to a certain country”.

“This is really about bringing everyone on board.” Yet he added that Moscow would first need to face prosecution for war crimes at an international court before it could be invited to a summit.

On Monday, Ukraine called on UN member states to deprive Russia of its status as a permanent member of the Security Council and to exclude it from the world body. Kuleba said they have long “prepared for this step to uncover the fraud and deprive Russia of its status.”

Source: Al Jazeera, The Associated Press