80 countries at Swiss conference agree Ukraine's territorial integrity must be basis of any peace


OBBÜRGEN, Switzerland (AP) — Eighty countries called Sunday for the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine to be the basis for any peace agreement to end Russia’s two-year war, though some key developing nations at a Swiss conference did not join in — and the way forward for diplomacy remains unclear.

The joint communique capped a two-day conference at the Bürgenstock resort in Switzerland that was marked by the absence of Russia, which was not invited. Many attendees expressed hope that Russia might join in on a roadmap to peace some time in the future.

The all-out war since President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has killed or injured hundreds of thousands of people, unsettled markets for goods like grain and fertilizer, driven millions from their homes and carved a wedge between the West — which has sanctioned Moscow over the war — and Russia, China and some other countries.

About 100 delegations, mostly Western countries but also some key developing nations, were on hand for the conference that was billed as a first step toward peace at a time when the warring countries are seemingly as far apart as ever.

The event included presidents and prime ministers from France, Germany, Britain, Japan, Poland, Argentina, Ecuador, Kenya and Somalia. The Holy See was also represented, and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke for the United States.

India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates — which were represented by foreign ministers or lower-level envoys — were among countries that did not sign the final document, which focused on issues of nuclear safety, food security and the exchange of prisoners. Brazil, an “observer,” did not sign on but Turkey did.

The final document said the U.N. Charter and “respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty … can and will serve as a basis for achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine.” That has been a nonstarter for Putin, who wants Ukraine to even cede more territory and back away from its long-laid hopes to join the NATO military alliance.

Viola Amherd, the Swiss president who hosted the event, told a final news conference the “great majority” of participants agreed to the final document, which “shows what diplomacy can achieve." Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said Switzerland would reach out to Russian authorities, but cagily declined to specify what the message would be.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the “first steps toward peace” at the meeting, and said the joint communique remains “open for accession by everyone who respects the U.N. Charter.”

He also said Ukraine was in talks with some countries, which he did not name, that had offered to host a “second peace summit” — but no timetable was laid out. Zelenskyy earlier this month accused China, backed by Russia, of attempting to undermine the Swiss conference, a claim denied by Beijing.

The Swiss and allies of Ukraine now face the task of trying to keep up momentum toward peace that could be soon be drowned out by bombs and battlefield developments, which in recent months have included some Russian territorial gains in the north and east.

Zelenskyy said national security advisers would meet in the future, and “there will be a specific plan" afterward.

Testifying to both war fatigue and other preoccupations that have emerged in recent months, only about half of U.N. member countries took part. It's a far cry from March 2022, when condemnation of Russia’s invasion led to passage of a non-binding resolution at the U.N. General Assembly by 141 countries calling for Russian troops to leave Ukraine.

It wasn’t fully clear why some developing countries on hand didn’t line up behind the final statement, but they may be hesitant to rankle Russia or have cultivated a middle ground between Moscow, its ally China, and Western powers backing Kyiv.

At the Swiss event, the challenge was to talk tough on Russia, but open the door for it to join a peace initiative.

“Many countries ... wanted the involvement of representatives of the Russian Federation,” Zelenskyy said. “At the same time, the majority of the countries do not want to shake hands with them (Russian leaders) ... so there are various opinions in the world.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive Commission, said the conference was rightly entitled “Path to Peace” because peace won’t be achieved in a single step.

“It was not a peace negotiation because Putin is not serious about ending the war. He is insisting on capitulation. He is insisting on ceding Ukrainian territory -- even territory that today is not occupied by him,” she said. “He is insisting on disarming Ukraine, leaving it vulnerable to future aggression. No country would ever accept these outrageous terms.”

Analysts suspected the two-day conference would have little concrete impact toward ending the war because Russia, was not invited. China, which did not attend, and Brazil have jointly sought to plot alternative routes toward peace.

Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said Saturday that his rich Gulf country hosted talks with both Ukrainian and Russian delegations on the reunification of Ukrainian children with their families that has so far resulted in 34 children being reunited.

The Ukrainian government believes that 19,546 children have been deported or forcibly displaced, and Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova has previously confirmed that at least 2,000 were taken from Ukrainian orphanages.

Montenegro Prime Minister Milojko Spajic told the gathering Sunday: “As a father of three, I'm deeply concerned by thousands of Ukrainian kids forcibly transferred to Russia or Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine.”

“We all at this table need to do more so that children of Ukraine are back in Ukraine,” he added.

Many countries saw the talks as a matter of principle, in part to uphold international law.

Kenyan President William Ruto called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “a horrible and horrifying spectacle of carnage and devastation,” and said his government has been unequivocal in condemning the aggression.

In Kyiv, at a regular demonstration by relatives of soldiers captured by Russia, the response to the Swiss gathering was muted.

“I would really like to believe that this (conference) will have an impact, but some very important countries did not sign the communique,” said Yana Shyrokyh, 56, whose army serviceman son has been in captivity since 2022. “I would really like them to find powerful levers of influence on Russia."