Thailand can play important diplomatic role in Ukraine-Russia conflict ahead of APEC

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More than one military analyst predicted that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would end quickly with a victory for Moscow. But arms supplies from the west and dogged resistance from the Ukrainians has seen the conflict drag on for months and will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

Rather than capitulating quickly, the Ukrainians have held out in key cities including the capital Kyiv, and have actually pushed the Russian back on several fronts.

But Moscow seems unable to drawdown its forces, perhaps because an off ramp is not apparent, and has bombarded its population with messages that this fight to de-nazify its western neighbour was a long term conflict.

Such rhetoric points to a protracted conflict with no end in sight. Diplomatic talks have so far broken down with direct talks between the Ukraine and Moscow reaching no conclusion or solution.

Overtures from NATO leaders including France’s Emmanuel Macron and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan have similarly failed to convince Russian president Vladimir Putin of the need for a drawdown or find a way out.

Outside mediation, mostly through Israel’s leadership has also failed to bring about any tangible result.

What is clear is that any peace deal that can come about must involve not only the two conflicting sides in Ukraine and Russia but also the EU and more importantly the United States.

The US, willfully or through President Joe Biden’s gaffes, have continued to escalate the rhetoric when it comes to Russia going so far as to call for a complete regime change in Moscow.

Moscow responded by accusing Washington of trying to start World War 3 and talking about its nuclear deterrents. Both sides have refused to meet.

And that is where Thailand comes in. As hosts of the APEC summit, to be held later this year in November, Thailand has a unique role to play in global diplomacy if it chooses to pursue that course.

Of course, that would require the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to change its mandate and be more proactive in diplomacy.

But APEC is the one time where both Russia and the United States will send senior leaders to a major conference since the conflict began.

Both Biden and Putin will be invited, according to sources inside the Thai MFA. Even if both leaders do not show up, there will be senior officials arriving. For the Russians, it is an opportunity to appeal to international support as it increasingly finds itself isolated. For the US, APEC is important to counter China and appeal for more sanctions against the Russians.

With so much at stake, Thai mediation in the crisis may seem like a far-fetched dream but if the men and women at the MFA could dream big enough, it is an opportunity for a diplomatic win that doesn’t come around very often.

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