Bürgenstock summit outcomes ‘redundant’ without Russia

Published Jun 23, 2024


By Reneva Fourie

A “high-level Summit on Peace for Ukraine” took place at the Bürgenstock resort on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland from June 15 to 16. The South African delegation was led by Professor Sydney Mufamadi, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national security adviser.

Although South Africa did not sign the adopted Joint Communiqué on a Peace Framework, the attendance by our most senior officials is a reflection of political developments within the country. South Africa has consistently maintained neutrality in the war between Russia and Ukraine, arguing for a negotiated settlement.

Even the minimum programme of the Government of National Unity advocates for a “foreign policy based on … peaceful resolution of conflicts”. Accordingly, the country’s participation in a summit that excludes a critical stakeholder in the war is inconsistent with established policy.

Peace cannot be obtained without all stakeholders associated with the war participating in a negotiation, and the conflict’s root causes being addressed. Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and the threat of World War III are due to the culmination of a prolonged degeneration of the global governance order.

The increased tension between nations can be attributed to the significant efforts of Western powers to limit the expanding global influence of China and Russia. China’s impressive economic growth and developmental approach challenge the established dominance of US imperialism.

Moreover, despite the containment strategy following the Soviet era, Russia has emerged as a significant global power. Its strong ties with China and its intervention in Syria (which undermined Western interests) have bolstered its diplomatic position and caused a substantial shift in the geopolitical balance of power in its favour.

Consequently, the tension between Ukraine and Russia, or China and Taiwan, are being fuelled by the West as part of the power struggle between different centres of influence.

Two key issues are associated with efforts to contain Russia’s influence: the expansion of Nato eastwards and the escalation of tension in the Donbas region. The issues could have been more effectively managed if the global governance system had been more robust.

Nato’s eastward expansion, in violation of agreements related to the dismantling of the former USSR, has intentionally provoked Russia. Additionally, Nato’s military expansion included deploying offensive intermediate-range missile systems in the European Baltic states near Russia’s borders, prompting Russia to respond with deployments of war materials and increased military exercises along its borders.

More directly, the 2014 coup d’état in Ukraine, aided by the US and UK, is a core cause of the conflict. The ousting of the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych led to secession demands in the Donbas, including the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics (DPR and LPR), as well as Crimea regions, which are predominantly populated by ethnic Russians.

Subsequently, the Ukrainian regime initiated an offensive against the regions, resulting in a stalemate resolved only with the signing of the Minsk Peace Agreement in 2015.

However, the Ukrainian regime violated the agreement on multiple occasions. In addition to the resurgence of conflict, people in the region were subjected to repression, discrimination and cultural extermination.

Once again, all sides agreed to a roadmap towards ending the conflict by October 2019. But, by February 2022, the violence against the people in the Donbas region had escalated to such high levels that Russia felt it had to intervene. On February 21, 2022, Russia recognised the DPR and LRP as independent states. It deployed troops to defend the territories, which escalated into a full-blown war with Ukraine.

The Biden administration has played a key role in enabling the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The conflict has strategically benefited the US in several ways: it has diverted attention from its domestic challenges, halted the North Stream 2 gas pipeline project between Germany and Russia (making Europe more dependent on US gas supplies), and entangled Russia in a protracted conflict while subjecting it to severe sanctions and indefinitely postponing its demands for a binding security agreement. Hence, despite Russia’s attempts to negotiate a ceasefire, the US and its allies continue to provide substantial financial and military support to Ukraine.

Ignoring the fundamental issues underpinning the war between Ukraine and Russia and failing to invite Russia rendered the Bürgenstock summit redundant. Notably, after further withdrawals, only 77 of the 92 state delegations to the event signed the final declaration. However, they should not have attended at all. Their presence gives credence to the West’s efforts to isolate Russia, using Ukraine as their proxy.

Furthermore, the summit’s emphasis on adherence to international law is ironic, given the failure of the global rules-based system to prevent Nato’s expansion and the violation of the Minsk agreement, which are fundamental contributors to the war.

The so-called “adherence to the international rules-based order” has proved itself hypocritical, given its inability (or unwillingness) to protect the Palestinians against the Israeli slaughter taking place in Gaza and the West Bank.

The prospect of restoring the efficacy of our global multilateral system is waning as the prevalence of right-wing ideologies in Western Europe and North America increases, amplifying the surge in aggressive rhetoric.

Regrettably, the right-leaning inclinations are not confined to the Global North alone. They are also gaining traction in some areas of the Global South, as evidenced by the composition of the governing coalition formed by the ANC.

It is imperative not to despair. The experiences of war and living under sanctions are extremely distressing. Therefore, addressing the broader contextual factors contributing to the Ukrainian-Russian conflict is crucial. All stakeholders must be engaged, and efforts should be directed towards securing commitments from all involved parties, including Russia, a central player.

Additionally, the South African government should be wary of granting excessive foreign policy influence to minority coalition partners, as it could compromise its neutrality on the issue. Given South Africa’s substantial role in Africa’s peace mission, maintaining objectivity on the matter is indispensable.

* Dr Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL