Zelensky urges Biden to attend Ukraine peace summit – saying only Putin would applaud him staying away

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Joe Biden to attend an upcoming Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland, saying that only Vladimir Putin will “applaud” him if he does not show up.

Though the Biden administration has been a staunch supporter of Kyiv, reports suggest President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are set to miss the summit, which would be a huge blow to Mr Zelensky – even if some form of presence from Washington is expected.

The move has raised concern about Mr Biden’s shifting interests ahead of the US presidential election, where he will face off against former president Donald Trump.

More than 80 countries will attend the two-day summit in Switzerland, which takes place on 15 and 16 June, but major players on the global stage, including China and the US, have declined to attend, while Russia has not been invited.

The aim of the summit is to bring heads of state and government together to try and chart a course for a “just and lasting peace” in Ukraine based upon the principles of the UN Charter and Ukraine’s own ‘Formula for Peace’, which Mr Zelensky presented in November 2020.

“I would want President Biden to be personally present. I know that America supports the summit but we do not know on which level,” said Mr Zelensky during a press conference in Brussels.

“I think that is not a strong decision, with all the respect to every person in the US. They support us very much but now the situation is very simple.

“I believe that this peace summit needs President Biden and other leaders need him as well, because they value the US reaction.

"[Biden's] absence would only be met by an applause by Putin, a personal, standing applause by Putin.”

President Joe Biden delivers the Memorial Day Address at the 156th National Memorial Day in Arlington over the weekend (AP)
President Joe Biden delivers the Memorial Day Address at the 156th National Memorial Day in Arlington over the weekend (AP)
Vladimir Putin has dismissed the Swiss peace summit as ‘pointless’ (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin has dismissed the Swiss peace summit as ‘pointless’ (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Zelensky made an earlier plea to Mr Biden and China’s leader Xi Jinping to join the summit, when he was visiting Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, over the weekend. The city sits only 30 miles from the Russian border.

Nearby Russian forces have viciously bombed the city and the wider region, as well as attacking across the border between the two countries in recent weeks, capturing more than 65 square miles of land two years after they were pushed out by Ukrainian troops following the initial invasion.

Russia has dismissed the Swiss summit as “pointless” and reaffirmed its demands that any peace negotiation recognises the “new territorial realities” in Ukraine, a reference to the four regions Putin illegally annexed in September 2022 but that his forces now only partially occupy, as well as the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed to international outcry in 2014.

Russia has also been pushing nations in Asia, Africa and South America not to attend the conference, according to a diplomatic memo. Putin, his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and other officials have met and called counterparts from dozens of countries with the apparent aim of deterring participation.

Mr Zelensky, who claimed Putin was “very scared” of the summit, maintains that the Swiss conference is of vital importance and that any peace plan in Ukraine would require Russian forces to withdraw from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, back to the 1991, post-Soviet Union borders.

He admitted on Tuesday that the US and China had still not signalled an intention to join the conference, adding that his team was also trying to convince Brazil to attend.

India, a member of the Brics community, an international alliance similar to the Group of Seven (G7) that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, has confirmed its attendance in a boost to the summit.

But South Africa will not attend. President Cyril Ramaphosa cited the upcoming elections in South Africa as the reason for not attending.

In March the Chinese Ambassador to Switzerland said that the country was in favour of promoting peace talks and was examining the possibility of participation.

But more recently, China has said that it supports a peace conference, convened “at an appropriate time”, that has “the equal participation of all parties and fair discussion of all options for peace”.