Away from the G-7, non-Western powers seek peace in Ukraine

Ishaan Tharoor. Photo: Twitter

The leaders summit of Group of Seven nations in Japan taking place at the end of this week has one issue at the top of its agenda: Ukraine. President Biden and his allies in this small, chummy club of industrialized powers are united in their desire to support Kyiv’s plans to wrest back control of major stretches of its territory lost to Russia’s invasion. Before the summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did a quick spin through Rome, Berlin, Paris and London – the capitals of Europe’s G-7 members – to gin up support and further commitments in military aid, including fighter jets. Deliberations in the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where the summit is being hosted, will involve discussion of ways to raise the pressure on Russia.

But tough questions loom. Even within the G-7 – arguably, the most close-knit major bloc on the world scene – there are differing views over how far support for Ukraine can go, or to what extent Russia must be defeated. Concerns surround the looming Ukrainian counteroffensive. While Western diplomats and their Ukrainian counterparts speak confidently in public of major territorial gains on the horizon, we know that U.S. officials are more skeptical about what Ukraine can accomplish along its long front with Russia. Some reports suggest the United States has even forecast an indefinite war of attrition that could one day resemble the frozen conflict splitting the Korean Peninsula.

And so, even as the like-minded allies of the G-7 puzzle over the way forward, other global actors are trying to find their own solutions. Almost since the start of Russia’s full-fledged invasion in February 2022, there has been a gap between the ways in which the conflict is perceived in Europe and North America and in large parts of the rest of the world, where solidarity with Ukraine is a bit more sparse. A narrative tension set in: While the United States and other Western countries vowed to arm Ukraine to the hilt, countries elsewhere pushed for a cessation in hostilities and a negotiated peace.

A flurry of diplomatic initiatives have been put forward in recent months. On Wednesday, Chinese envoy Li Hui, Beijing’s special representative for Eurasian affairs, was in Kyiv, holding talks with a series of high-level Ukrainian officials during a two-day trip before continuing his mission to a handful of other European capitals. His visit was preceded earlier this month by Celso Amorim, special adviser on international affairs to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who touted a nonaligned “peace club” to mediate a truce between Russia and Ukraine. Lula also triggered Washington’s ire by accusing the West of helping to fuel the conflict with its shipments of weapons.

Skeptics believe such efforts are half-baked and play into Russia’s hands. But numerous world statesmen still want to give it ago. On Thursday, Vatican sources confirmed that Pope Francis was keen to dispatch his own envoys to Moscow and Kyiv. Earlier in the week, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the formation of a delegation of leaders from six African countries – including his counterparts from Zambia, Senegal, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Egypt – to meet separately with Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a bid “to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict.”

Four of these countries abstained from a U.N. vote last year that condemned the Russian invasion, while South Africa has been accused by U.S. officials of proving weapons and ammunition to Russia via a cargo ship that secretly docked at a naval base near Cape Town last December. Ramaphosa’s government has denied the allegations; it maintains a neutral stance on Ukraine, though has deep links to the Kremlin, in part because of years of Soviet support for South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement.

Ukrainian officials are categorical in how they view such overtures, at present, warning that Russia was not a genuine interlocutor and that Putin could be trusted. “One cannot make a mediation with Putin,” Zelensky said on Italian television last weekend, after meeting the pope. “He just knows how to kill. It is not a question of the Vatican, Latin America or China.”

China’s initiative is arguably the most substantive, given Beijing’s significant leverage over Moscow. But analysts see its proposals as essentially working to preserve a Russian advantage and undermine Ukraine. “A total Russian defeat does not serve Chinese interest, especially if it leads to Putin’s demise,” Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told CNBC. “Russia is an increasingly important partner for [Chinese President] Xi Jinping. There is no other country that can help weaken U.S. leadership in the world and revise the international order.”

Unsurprisingly, it seems Li’s efforts in Kyiv bore little fruit. On Wednesday, a statement from Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry relayed Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba’s discussions with the Chinese envoy, saying that he “emphasized that Ukraine does not accept any proposals that would involve the loss of its territories or the freezing of the conflict” – two elements of China’s publicized peace plan. On queue, Russian missiles fell on the Ukrainian capital.

Ukrainian officials are at pains to stress that such a stance does not mean they don’t want peace. “Our main goal is to resolve the war,” Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova told me via Zoom on Wednesday. “We are the most interested party when it comes to peace.” But she added that the terms of any truce between Ukraine and Russia “would not and should not be an appeasement of the aggressor.” That means a withdrawal of Russian forces from all of the Ukrainian territory they occupy before a political settlement.

Dzhaparova pointed to outsize Russian influence in many countries in the so-called global South. She visited India last month, where she observed a “deficit of information” about Ukraine, given both its geographical remove from South Asia as well as the imprint of “Soviet epoch thinking” that persuaded many of her Indian interlocutors that Ukraine and Russia were ultimately part of the same political or national entity.

“I had to really put some effort to explain that we’re not one nation, that this is exactly why we have this war, which is an existential war,” she said, explaining how Putin could not countenance a Ukraine that sees itself as part of the West and as a “European nation.”

Dzhaparova’s message to the countries seeking to mediate the conflict was stark: They should “be on the right side of history,” she said, and “not support evil and not be part of this evil.”



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