When the war with Russia is over, Ukraine will need security guarantees against any possible future attack. Membership of NATO has been touted as the obvious answer, getting back its nuclear weapons is not on the agenda.
When Yuriy Sak, advisor to Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, gave a recent interview to ask Western allies for military help, he said: “They didn’t want to give us heavy artillery, then they did. They didn’t want to give us HIMARS systems, then they did. They didn’t want to give us tanks, now they are giving us tanks. Apart from nuclear weapons, there is nothing left that we will not get.”
“So, aren’t nukes the answer to ensure Ukraine’s security?” I asked. “When President Zelensky said we needed to get all our territory back to where we were at the beginning, shouldn’t the same principle apply to when nuclear weapons were taken away?”
Sak replied: “On the list of our requests, there are still items we haven’t received apart from nuclear weapons. For example, long range missiles which we need for the counter-offensive, and for our protection.
“We have still to receive fourth generation F16 fighter jets, so there are still [conventional] weapon systems which we need to get. When it comes to nuclear weapons, we are a peaceful nation. I don’t think we have any aspirations to become a nuclear power.
“We just hope the system that is currently in place, internationally, holds up and doesn’t allow Russia to do something stupid. The nuclear issue was one of the things discussed when the President of China went to Moscow. To live in a safe and stable world, we need to have fewer nuclear states - not more.”
How quickly could Ukraine join NATO after the war, is anyone ‘s answer. For Sak, Ukraine has a bad history with security guarantees. He has in mind the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, by which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees promised by the US, UK, and RUSSIA. He is still hopeful, however, that Ukraine will become NATO’s 33rd member after Sweden joins.
He bases his optimism on the fact that, in comparison with the army’s of most NATO members, the Ukrainian army has proven to be the most capable because of their ongoing battlefield experience.
“I would venture to say that we are the strongest army in Europe, protecting the eastern flank of NATO,” said Sak. “De facto we have met most of the requirements to join the NATO alliance, plus we are transforming our armed forces making them interoperable with NATO standards.”
Could Ukraine protect itself with outside military help, without NATO? He dismisses the idea. “It is part of the Ministry of Defense’s long-term strategy that we join NATO as we understand that it is not sustainable for us to continue to rely only on Western weapons systems,” he said.
“We will have to build our own industrial base. In the past we have been producing everything from missiles to tanks. It is not possible to do this now as anything that concerns the military would be a target for missile attacks.
“But it is one of the priorities of the MoD and lots of work has already begun. We have mutual projects with other Eastern European countries to produce ammunition, certain weapons and the maintenance of weapons we receive from the West. Long-term we will have to be self-reliant as much as possible.”
If the counteroffensive does not bring total victory, Sak said the government would not trade territory for NATO membership. “We have been there before, tried to negotiate and nothing has worked,” he said.
“We have paid a high enough price with so many of our peaceful citizens being killed and cities destroyed. Russians will be forced out of every single village and city in Ukraine, where they are temporarily now, including Crimea. That is non-negotiable. It will happen soon.”
Another concern is the possibility of large numbers of refugees heading to Ukraine if the Russian Federation collapses. Would that destabilize the country and be a security concern?
“After we win the war, we will be focused on rebuilding our country. What happens in Russia is none of our concern apart from making them pay reparations and stand trial for the war crimes they have committed. There are international conventions which Ukraine is party to and everything will be regulated.”
Would the removal of Putin provide a security guarantee? “Putin should not be removed from power,” said Sak. “Putin has to be detained by Interpol and taken to The Hague where he should stand trial for the War Crimes that he has committed.”
Before joining NATO, would another possible security guarantee be to receive foreign troops in Ukraine as peacekeepers, say from friendly countries like Poland? Sak finds it an interesting idea. “There have been examples in European history where there has been a stabilization or peacekeeping force deployed to ensure a peaceful arrangement,” he said.
After the Second World War, Germany was demilitarized. “It is something the international community should consider,” said Sak. “If not the whole of Russia, a belt around the border of Ukraine would be a demilitarized zone.”
Before that the war has to be won. There was talk of his boss Reznikov being moved from his job. “He is busy doing what he knows best, procuring weapons for Ukraine,” said Sak. “The President wants him to be there to help win this war.”
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