The strange tale of an unofficial private Swiss plan for a negotiated peace settlement between Ukraine and Russia
"While admitting that the invasion was a violation of the UN Charter, Ukraine was, under the different points of the proposal, the country that would have to alter its political institutions and its identity."
In late March of this year, I received a copy of a draft peace plan for a negotiated peace settlement between Ukraine and Russia. The document was unsigned and written on plain paper. But based on its structure, substance, and formulation, it was clear that its author or authors had expertise and practice in conflict mediation. Unmistakably, it also had all the markings of a Swiss initiative.
The document referred to previous mediation conducted by Switzerland, including Russia’s entry into the WTO over Georgia’s initial objections. Its core proposals called for political and military neutrality for Ukraine, turning the country into a federation and recognizing Ukrainian and Russian as official languages. While admitting that the invasion was a violation of the UN Charter, Ukraine was, under the different points of the proposal, the country that would have to alter its political institutions and its identity. Crimea, for example, would not be returned to Ukraine but benefit from a special status with shared sovereignty between the two countries.
Five weeks into the war, the document’s tone struck me as overly accepting of Russia’s narrative, its preamble talking about Russia’s “wisdom” in what I thought was a denial of the gravity of Russia’s attack on its neighbor, a line often heard in Geneva, where some continue to try to absolve Russia for the invasion. I figured that bringing Putin to the table may require such appeasing language.
A few days before I came into possession of the document, on March 19, Volodymyr Zelensky had remotely addressed a rally in Bern, calling for support. Present at the event coordinated by the Swiss government was Ignazio Cassis, Switzerland’s President, who said that his country was ready to play a mediation role “behind the scenes” or to “welcome negotiations.” However, through a spokesperson the Swiss Foreign Ministry told me it had no knowledge of the proposal in my possession, adding it would “welcome any private peace initiative.” I made a few unsuccessful inquiries to assess the provenance and the status of the document and to track down the source. With disinformation rampant, unable to clearly establish where the initiative might come from, I eventually decided not to publish anything. On April 1, the world discovered the massacre perpetrated by the Russian forces in Bucha, the beginning of a long series of military operations by Russia that make any negotiations between the two parties unthinkable and have, for the West and its allies, turned Putin’s Russia into a pariah state.
Fast forward. Three weeks ago, at a public event, I bumped into someone whom I suspected from the outset of having been involved in the writing of the draft peace plan. “Are you the author?” I asked. They eluded the question without denying being involved. “Many peace plan proposals are floating around,” they answered. I pressed. “The one I am referring to talks about Russia’s ‘wisdom.’ Did you write those words?” “I did,” they admitted, “I am afraid they are not worth much today,” they told me. They had hoped that realizing the folly of his monumental blunder, Putin would try to find a quick way out. “I had mediated conflicts in the past. I felt it was my duty as a private citizen to try to help find a solution. Late one night, I got up and wrote that document. Well, it didn’t take long for it to be condemned to the dustbin of history.”
They admit having allowed it to be posted on the website of Christoph Stückelberger, founder of Globethics.net and professor of ethics at Basel University. Now amended, the words about Russia’s wisdom have been omitted. Who knows? Some of the plan’s elements may, in an unpredictable future, be the beginning of the roadmap toward a successful mediation.