Recent weeks have witnessed several calls for peace in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy just wrapped up appearances at the G7 Summit in Japan and the Arab League Summit in Saudi Arabia, urging support for his country’s peace plan. China recently followed up the release of its February 2023 peace plan by sending its top diplomat, Wang Yi, on a European tour and dispatched peace envoy Li Hiu last week to Ukraine, Poland, Germany, France and Russia. Meanwhile, world leaders ranging from the president of South Africa to the pope are pursuing their own peace initiatives. At no time since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, has there been so much momentum toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. The United States should seize this opportunity to play a leading role.
Advocating strongly for Zelenskyy’s proposed Global Peace Summit in July would be a powerful way to do this. Indeed, the United States can help speed the resolution of a conflict that has taken a terrible toll on the innocent people of Ukraine and had a host of negative implications for millions around the world. At the same time, U.S. leadership can help ensure that Ukraine obtains a peace that is just and sustainable.
Proliferating Proposals for Peace
At the G7 Summit, Zelenskyy proposed a Global Peace Summit that would discuss a 10-point peace plan he originally proposed at the November 2022 G20 summit. The plan addresses issues like global food security, radiation and nuclear safety, energy security and the release of all prisoners and deportees. It also calls for the restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity, a withdrawal of Russian troops and an end to all hostilities. It demands accountability, including the prosecution of Russian war crimes, demining and the restoration of water treatment facilities. Finally, the plan calls for security guarantees for post-war Ukraine. Importantly, the Global Peace Summit would ensure the principle of “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” putting the victim of Russia’s aggression at the heart of the discussions about ending the war.
The Ukrainian proposal largely aligns with the May 2023 G7 Leaders’ Statement on Ukraine. The leaders welcomed and supported Zelenskyy’s principles. In addition, their statement calls for a just and lasting peace in Ukraine that requires “the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and military equipment” from Ukrainian territory. They addressed nuclear safety and security by commending the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) efforts in Ukraine and demanded accountability consistent with international law. Finally, the G7 also stressed the importance of measures to ensure global food security.
These efforts contrast with vigorous Chinese activity based upon a February proposal for “a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.” Some of the points in this plan — references to the expansion of military blocs (i.e., NATO) and Chinese opposition to unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the U.N. Security Council (all the sanctions aimed to limit Russia’s ability to wage this war) — are clearly objectionable to U.S. policymakers. Nonetheless, there are points that coincide with Zelenskyy’s proposal — in particular, respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and the prohibition of any nuclear weapons use. These are worthy of discussing at the Global Peace Summit, especially since China will likely play a key role in bringing Russia to the negotiating table, a proposition that Russian President Vladimir Putin has welcomed.
In addition to these detailed proposals, there are also a number of less-articulated efforts. For example, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa plans to lead a delegation of leaders from six African nations to meet separately with Zelenskyy and Putin to discuss peace. Pope Francis has also asked an Italian cardinal to lead a peace mission to help end the war. And an international group of NGOs is organizing an “International Summit for Peace in Ukraine” in Vienna, Austria in June, declaring, “It is time for the weapons to fall silent and for diplomacy to begin to resolve the conflict.”
There have already been some notable diplomatic achievements in the war thus far, like the Black Sea grain initiative. Brokered in July 2022 by the United Nations and Turkey, Ukraine and Russia reached a deal that enabled the shipment of grain and fertilizer from Ukraine to the rest of the world. Implementing this agreement has not been easy, and with Russia failing to uphold its commitment and threatening to leave the regime, it has only been extended for two months with further hard negotiations likely ahead. That said, persistent negotiators still achieved it. Furthermore, Russia and Ukraine have managed to agree upon several exchanges of prisoners of war.
Prospects for Peace
Two points are clear: The entire world has a stake in the outcome of Russia’s war against Ukraine and diplomacy is both necessary and possible.
There is no question that Ukrainians are the main victims of Russian aggression. In addition to the thousands of soldiers killed or wounded defending their country, the U.N. reports that as of April 2023 Ukraine has endured another 8,490 killed and 14,244 injured civilians in the war. In addition, some 16,000 children have been taken to Russia or Russian-controlled territory — for which the International Criminal Court has indicted Putin as a war criminal. And Ukraine has endured a months-long Russian onslaught against critical civilian infrastructure, and a massive refugee and internally displaced person crisis.
But the impact of the war is felt beyond Ukraine’s borders. There has been a global food crisis, a global spike in energy prices, and inflationary pressures causing a global cost-of-living crisis. In addition, if any of Ukraine’s vulnerable nuclear power plants were to be damaged, the catastrophic impacts could be felt over a large swath of Europe.
Thus, there is a clear interest in moving the conflict toward a resolution. Experience in the war thus far shows that diplomatic progress is possible. Diplomacy has worked, as evidenced by the grain deal and the prisoner exchanges. Thus, there is reason to believe that diplomacy could be an effective tool in other ways. For example, the IAEA has been working consistently to find an agreement to ensure the security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. This is a promising area for future negotiations that is addressed by both the Zelenskyy peace plan and the Chinese proposal. Other areas of overlap include protection of civilians and prisoners of war and protection of civilian infrastructure. Achieving agreement on these humanitarian issues would be an important step toward alleviating the suffering of the Ukrainian people and others around the world.
As the war continues through its second year, there are an increasing number of proposals for a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Some of these, as discussed above, are promising. Others are worrying. Calling for a cease-fire right now, before issues are negotiated, is essentially calling for locking in Russian gains, leaving Ukraine weakened and vulnerable.
As some Ukrainian civil society organizations have said in their May 2023 peace appeal, “These calls for negotiation with Putin without resistance are in reality calls to surrender our sovereignty and territorial integrity.” But that doesn’t mean there should be no negotiations at all. The peace appeal goes on to assert that Ukraine civil society organizations “appreciate continued international mediation and mediation support for humanitarian negotiations ... ” and that there needs to be “a new imagination and a new approach to working internationally for peace ... .”
The United States can and should take the lead in this. By supporting Zelenskyy’s proposed global peace summit, the United States will help Ukraine take the lead in channeling these international efforts and defining the terms of a future peace. This will help ensure that vital humanitarian issues are addressed, and that important principles (like territorial integrity) are not sacrificed.