Central and Eastern Europeans are renowned for their folklore and fairy tales. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Kyiv regards German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s latest announcement that Germany and its allies are in talks to provide Ukraine with future NATO and European Union (EU) security guarantees as yet another “Once upon a time” fairy story.
Having gone down this path once too many times in recent times, Ukrainians view nebulous “Security guarantees” in exchange for peace as a chase after “Fool’s Gold”. The belief that Russia would ever honor any “security guarantee” that is made with the West as a starting point for negotiations to end the war in Ukraine is an evident fallacy – to rely on a security guarantee with Russia is completely ill advised.
The only security guarantee Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will accept and candidly deserves, is admission into NATO. Article 5 of the NATO Charter is the only red-line Putin has respected and honored to date during his Czar-like tenure of Russia. Anything less than full NATO membership is likely to be treated as further weakness within the Alliance by Moscow.
On February 28th NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg stated that member-nations agree “Ukraine will join the alliance in the ‘long term,’ but that for now, the task facing the international community is to ensure that Ukraine remains a free and sovereign state independent of Russia.” Ukraine must win the war if Russia is to ever accept that.
But if Putin remains in power after the war’s end, then the pledge of NATO membership is moot; after all, it was one the reasons Putin used to justify his invasion of Ukraine in the first place. Winning is the only outcome that will secure peace.
Negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to be a non-starter. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his word is meaningless and that any negotiated settlement with Ukraine would be nothing more than a pretext designed for the west to let its guard down while Russia resets for its next offensive.
Why is that lesson so hard for the likes of Scholz and others to understand? It is as though they are deliberately challenging the veracity of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The thought of reaching out to China is not likely to make a difference either. President Xi Jinping has his own agenda, and bringing the war to an end in the foreseeable future may not be one of the outcomes China is pursuing. A war that weakens Russia, United States and NATO is advantageous for China across many domains.
It is time Ukraine was freed up to formulate its own agenda in view of the the numerous times “security guarantees” have failed them.
In 1994, Ukraine accepted the Budapest Memorandum Security Assurances in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons and its accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Under the terms of the agreement, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States were prohibited from “threatening or using military force or economic coercion against Ukraine.”
Words matter though in international law and the legalese of the memorandum essentially amounted to nothing; the agreement was not “an official treaty,” nor was it “legally binding” with any “enforcement mechanism.”
The security assurances contained in the Budapest Memorandum failed Ukraine in 2014 when Russia forcibly annexed Crimea, and again in February 2022 when Putin launched his ‘special military operation.’ Ukraine, rightfully, is “once bitten, twice shy.” That sentiment was underscored by Ukraine’s former defense minister, Andriy Zahorodniuk when he stated, “We gave away the capability for nothing. Now, every time somebody offers us to sign a strip of paper, the response is, ‘Thank you very much’. We already had one of those some time ago.’”
In lieu of full membership of the NATO alliance, there may be room for compromise. Polish President Andrzej Duda, arguably Ukraine’s staunchest supporter, has called upon NATO to “provide postwar security guarantees to Ukraine.” Short of outright admission into NATO, Ukraine may be willing to accept a “partnership” that included specific NATO security guarantees; however, unlike the Budapest Memorandum, it would have to be “structured differently, effectively binding NATO into providing military assistance in the event of a future attack on Ukraine.”
Getting Putin to acquiesce to this compromise is unlikely at best. But it is, as suggested by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a starting point for NATO leaders to discuss prior to their next summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in July.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu believes that the only viable security guarantee for Ukraine, absent admission into NATO, would be to provide them with nuclear weapons. Reinsalu’s rationale is, "What's the point of trying to copy NATO if you are making it clear that it is not NATO? It's like a half-NATO. I would be rather suspicious of that replica. Honestly, the only guarantee except NATO membership would be to deliver nuclear weapons to Ukraine." That, however, is not going to happen either.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto’s appears to believe the answer is an immediate ceasefire. In comments on SVT TV Monday morning, he said “The first goal is to stop killing people, which means a ceasefire agreement and nothing else." Well-meaning, perhaps, but a ceasefire will not stop the killing. Putin has proven that time and time again.
Zelensky is not likely to agree to any brokered security guarantee by Germany and its allies, or Hungary, to bring about a negotiated end to the war. He wants all Russian soldiers out of his country and a return to pre-2014 territorial borders – including Crimea. Until NATO votes to admit Ukraine into the alliance, Zelensky’s only security guarantee comes from the weapons his military are using to defend themselves from withering Russian assaults as they await the arrival of more defensive weapons from the West – German Leopard 2 Main Battle Tanks, M1 Abrams, Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, HIMARS, and Patriot Missiles.
To achieve any semblance of security, Ukraine needs to restore its territorial integrity, and that means forcibly expelling the Russian invader. To achieve this security guarantee, Ukraine needs offensive weapons with deep strike capability from such things as the U.S. Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and F-16 fighter-bombers.
These would enable Ukraine to interdict Russian formations before they reach the battlefield provide Kyiv with the ability to strike back at ballistic missile and drone launch sites beyond its borders. Winning the war is the ultimate security guarantee – securing the peace with inclusion into NATO post-conflict should be the end state.
Putin and his generals only respect the violence of action offensive weapons provide Ukraine. Without them Russia will continue to be free, despite the great cost in its men and equipment, to continue the Kremlin’s war of using mass to attack static targets, such as Bakhmut.
Given this reality, what is the West waiting for?
A negotiated end to the war will not stop the killing, only prolong it. It will freeze time and afford Putin the opportunity to rearm, refit, and recommit his military to resume his quest to resurrect the Kyivan Rus’ empire; the restoration of the former Soviet Union. Putin’s 6,885-word manifesto virtually assures it. There can be no ‘reset button,’ no return to normal. This struggle will only end when Putin is removed from power and the last Russian soldier and transplanted Russian citizen is escorted out of Ukraine. The world needs a new normal and that means a world without Vladimir Putin.
“Once upon a time in Budapest” needs no sequel. Ukraine is now in a time when its independent future must be guaranteed. Ukraine can only be free and begin anew when Russia is defeated on the battlefield. Anything less and this nightmare will continue to persist.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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Comments ( 1)
I am just astonished that these co-called 'wise' men, aka politicians, are too stupid (for lack of other words) to look at history. All answers are there. If you want to know what will happen tomorrow, look at yesterday. The Kremlin Clown will never honour any agreement and will only use any 'pause' he can get to reorganise and build his arsenal.