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Diplomacy Watch: Middle powers offer unique 'congrats' to Putin

Leaders in Turkey, India, use post-election phone calls to offer support in future negotiations

Reporting | QiOSK

Vladimir Putin extended his rule over Russia after claiming a fifth term as president over the weekend in a predetermined election in which he faced little opposition. Leaders of middle powers who have maintained neutral stances during the war in Ukraine used congratulatory phone calls with Putin to stress the importance of bringing the conflict to an end and signal their willingness to help play a constructive role in future negotiations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “expressed Turkey's readiness to play any facilitating role in returning to the negotiation table for Ukraine,” according to a statement released by his office. Ankara has pursued a balancing act throughout the war, providing military support to Ukraine but refusing to join the Western sanctions effort targeting Moscow. Turkey also played a key role in the now-defunct Black Sea grain deal, one of the few diplomatic breakthroughs through the first two years of conflict, and earlier this month offered to host a summit between Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

Indian President Narendra Modi made a similar push in the aftermath of Russia’s elections, as he spoke to both Putin and Zelensky, emphasizing the necessity of “dialogue and diplomacy,” between the two nations, reported the Times of India.

“Unlike China, India has not drawn up any peace plan, or made any specific offer to mediate, but has long maintained it will be happy to facilitate any international peace effort,” according to the report. “Zelenskyy expressed gratitude for India’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, humanitarian aid and ‘active’ participation in Peace Formula meetings, as he invited Modi to Ukraine and hoped India will attend the inaugural Global Peace Summit in Switzerland.”

Following its role as G20 host in 2023, world leaders and analysts expressed optimism that New Delhi could emerge as a peacemaker in the war.

Zelensky has been working to win over these middle powers and the rest of the Global South to sign on to his vision of a peace formula and participate in the planned summit in Switzerland that Russia has not been invited to. As outlined in Diplomacy Watch earlier this month, Kyiv has offered tepidly to welcome China’s role in this effort, seeing Beijing as having leverage over parts of the rest of the world.

But Politico reported on Monday that Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to France in May, looking to convince European leaders to invite Putin to future peace talks. If Moscow is not included, Beijing may boycott any upcoming summits.

“That message was amplified, [officials] say, during Chinese special envoy Li Hui's European tour earlier this month to discuss the future of Ukraine,” according to Politico.

Kyiv has signaled some openness to having Russia at later talks, after the summit in Switzerland that it hopes will take place this summer.

“There can be a situation in which we together invite representatives of the Russian Federation, where they will be presented with the plan in case whoever is representing the aggressor country at that time will want to genuinely end this war and return to a just peace,” Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, said in late February.

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

— While the next tranche of Ukraine aid continues to get held up in the U.S. House of Representatives, two Biden administration officials traveled to Europe this week to express their optimism that Washington will eventually provide Kyiv with more funding. Speaking ahead of a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said “The message today is clear: The U.S. won’t let Ukraine fail. This coalition will not let Ukraine fail and the free world won’t let Ukraine fail.”

Meanwhile, national security adviser Jake Sullivan made a secret visit to Kyiv, “in a trip aimed at reaffirming U.S. support for the beleaguered ally,” according toThe Washington Post. “You should believe in the United States,” Sullivan told reporters during this trip. “We are confident we will get this done. We will get this aid to Ukraine.”

— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was also in Kyiv on Monday, and he urged Ukrainian lawmakers to pass a mobilization law that would lower the age of eligibility to the draft from 27 to 25. “I would hope that those eligible to serve in the Ukrainian military would join. I can’t believe it’s at 27,” Graham said. “You’re in a fight for your life, so you should be serving — not at 25 or 27.”

As Jack Hunter noted in Responsible Statecraft this week, Graham notably voted against the aid package that passed the Senate last month. “So it shouldn’t be surprising that despite encouraging Ukraine’s young men to fight in a war many of them don’t believe in and don’t want to die in, Graham actually voted against the last Ukraine aid package because it did not include funding U.S. border security,” writes Hunter. “So he was comfortable withholding money for a war over politics — a war he proclaims to believe in deeply — while urging citizens of a foreign country to march into oblivion.”

— Russia fired more than 30 missiles into Kyiv on Thursday, the first such attack against the Ukrainian capital in six weeks, according to AP. “Air defenses shot down all 31 of the missiles, though the falling wreckage still damaged apartment buildings and injured 13 people, including a child, officials said,” reported Reuters. “The heavy attack on Kyiv came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to ‘respond in kind’ to recent Ukrainian aerial attacks on the Russian border region of Belgorod, which have embarrassed the Kremlin and which Russian officials say have killed civilians.”

U.S. State Department news:

In response to a question about the Polish foreign minister’s claim that whether or not Ukraine succeeds in its defense against Russia is a question of U.S. credibility, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel defended Washington’s response to the war.

“I think that when it comes to our credibility, you needn’t look any further than the immense support that the United States and its allies and partners have provided to our Ukrainian partners since February of 2022, and that work is going to continue and we’re going to continue to do so in close coordination with our allies and partners,” Patel said. “ It is because, of course, the courageousness and the heroism of the Ukrainian people, but also the convergence with our partners in Europe and others around the country that we have been able to continue to support Ukraine in the way that we have and it has been able to defend itself so fiercely.”
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Reporting | QiOSK
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