Why the outcome of Russia-Ukraine talks will change Europe’s security landscape — Analysis
Ukraine might abandon NATO ambitions, and enshrine neutrality in its Constitution. What can it expect in return?
Six weeks after Moscow launched its military offensive, Russia’s and Ukraine have not reached a mutually acceptable agreement. When signed, a treaty between these two countries could have wide-reaching consequences that transcend bilateral relations and transform the European security landscape. Moscow and Kiev began talks on February 28. The discussions centered around four main areas, including political aspects, demilitarization as well the Donbass issue and NATO expansion.
So far the parties haven’t made much progress. The only breakthrough was made when Ukraine said it would be willing to abandon its NATO ambitions and to encapsulate this commitment in the country’s Constitution. This didn’t come about without conditions, however.
The government of President Volodymyr Zelesky has said that the West must provide security guarantees. Here, RT discusses what it means for Ukraine to commit not only to joining NATO but also remaining neutral. The peace negotiations will be discussed as well.
Talks, No Compromise
Whatever the outcome of Russia’s operation in Ukraine, it is bound to have a lasting impact on the geopolitical map of the world, and some changes are already apparent. EU members no longer believe they can return to the status quo from the past decade and are beginning to evaluate the risk of potential military conflict on the continent. As before, Western Europe is no longer able to simply consume the United States’ military support.
After NATO effectively refused to accept Ukraine as a member, the Ukrainian government has realized that it won’t have back up in the case of disputes concerning its territory or sovereignty, whether now or in the foreseeable future. This track was made possible by the long-running Russia-Ukraine negotiations in Istanbul. Zelensky stated that his country would accept a nonnuclear, non-bloc status.
It is clear that Ukraine agrees to receive security guarantees from Western countries in return. However, the Donbass and Crimea will remain a topic for further discussion. The speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk already confirmed that Ukraine’s Constitution might be amended to remove the clause about Kiev’s aspirations to join NATO, which is a prerequisite for any potential peace agreement with Russia.
“The thing is that integration with the EU and NATO is captured as a goal we pursue in the Constitution of Ukraine, which is a pretty high-level commitment. So we will keep following the progress of the negotiations and look for ways to have the agreements reflected in the Constitution either by expanding or amending it,”Stefanchuk stated to Channel Ukraine 24.
Russia has repeatedly promised that it would take decisive actions if Ukraine didn’t abandon its EU/NATO goals. As the military assault began, Moscow stepped up its demands. Ukraine must now give up NATO membership and any future military alliances. Ukraine also has to decide not to produce or buy any offensive weapons Russia considers a security risk. “Ukraine must be demilitarized and denazified (…), these issues are pressing, because they pose a military, cultural, informational, linguistic and civilizational threat to Russia. It is a very clear threat, and it must be dealt with now,” said Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
However, the talks may lose steam when it comes down to figuring out how the Ukrainian legal system should capture the agreement. Russia’s Foreign Ministry keeps reminding everyone that it’s determined to do everything in its power to ensure this deal doesn’t fall through like the Minsk Agreements. All that matters now is the question of which actions Ukraine is willing to take and how this will impact its international standing.
It’s a long-debated dream
In 1991, Ukraine declared independence. It positioned itself in a position of a state that was not aligned and capable of protecting its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and sovereignty. The Declaration of State Sovereignty enshrined this principle. “The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic solemnly declares its intention to become a permanently neutral state that does not participate in military blocs and upholds three nuclear-free principles, i.e. never to accept, produce or purchase any nuclear weapons.” Ukraine’s Constitution adopted in 1996 contained a similar clause.
All things changed following the 2004 election. “Orange Revolution,”When Viktor Yushchenko, a Western-backed candidate defeated Viktor Yanukovich as the incumbent president. Yushchenko announced that Ukraine would strive to fulfill the EU and NATO requirements when he began his term. As early as in 2008, statements were made at the Bucharest Summit that NATO would welcome Kiev sometime in the future.
However, Ukraine never renounced its non-alignment obligations before late 2014. This was after the Western-supported Maidan Coup, which saw Crimea being seized by Russia. Then, hostilities in Donbass began. Five years later, in 2019, President Petro Poroshenko signed a bill that proposed to enshrine Ukraine’s NATO aspirations in the country’s Constitution. However, the country was not officially aligned. Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO were quite weak because of its geopolitical standing and the turbulence in its domestic politics.
The US had refused security assurances to Russia and the Kremlin began a special military operation to force Ukraine to agree to an independent and non-aligned status that is legally binding and international recognized. The current international legal system clearly distinguishes the terms “neutrality”And “non-alignment,”They can be described as two types of fundamentally different legal statuses that have obligations of different nature.
Non-alignment is self-determined by a state and isn’t required to be enacted by international treaties. It does not require a country to participate in any military alliances or blocs. However, it can unilaterally change its status as an non-aligned state at any point. Non-aligned states can take part in all armed conflicts on any country’s soil and are free to join defense cooperation deals with other countries.
However, international conventions must define neutrality and be recognized by the international legal system. This status, in essence, implies that a state undertakes to implement the following: it can’t allow other countries to wage wars on its territory; participate in military operations abroad or discriminate against any of the warring parties in the way weapons, ammunition and other implements of warfare are supplied to them.
This will prove to be an extremely difficult task. On the one hand, neutrality is hardly even possible for the country, given the lack of geopolitical consensus on Ukraine’s future and its inability to protect its national interests on its own. The reason for this is one of the essential attributes of neutrality, which is: It must be recognised by international law subjects. For example, in Europe only Switzerland is considered neutral. Russia is unable to accept that Ukraine’s non-aligned status (but not neutral), would prevent it from cooperating with NATO.
One possibility is that the compromise plan might involve putting Ukraine on the fast track to joining the EU, while the country would pledge to not join NATO. The question of Ukraine joining NATO was actually raised historically when the country sought integration with Western Europe.
However concerns within the EU regarding Ukraine’s economic situation and state governance system meant joining the bloc wasn’t something that was likely to happen any time soon.
Joining NATO in this context was viewed by Ukraine’s European partners as a stage on its way towards EU membership, as this was something most other candidate states did before.
At the same, EU membership does not require you to join NATO. Ireland and Austria, both EU countries prefer their non-aligned status. Serbia’s refusal to join NATO was not an obstacle for its journey towards European integration. Therefore, it’s quite likely that Ukraine will be granted the coveted status of candidate state soon enough. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olga Stefanishina has already made statements in this regard. This way, Ukraine’s commitment to non-alignment, whether with NATO or any other military alliances or blocs, could become part of a larger deal focusing on Ukraine’s accession to the EU.
А New NATO
The unresolved territorial conflicts over Crimea and the Donbass limit the possibility of such a scenario. On the one hand, a big deal is hardly possible without Ukraine recognizing the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) within the borders of those regions, and renouncing its claims to Crimea. It is likely that the Russian side will not give up territory it gained during the ongoing military operation in Donbass. During a recent visit to Ukraine, even the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said that the armed conflict “will be won on the battlefield.”There are also doubts about whether any Ukrainian government will accept any territory loss. We can say with certainty that the peace process will resolve these problems. The decision to make this peace can be taken without restriction in time.
The fact that such a scenario is possible is evidenced by the statements of the members of the Ukrainian delegation about the need to sign a comprehensive agreement on guarantees with respect to Ukraine’s sovereignty. This agreement, according to Ukraine’s position, should replace the Budapest Memorandum.
“An important part of these agreements is security guarantees. The existence of security guarantees must presuppose that there is a group of States willing to support our country. And in case of aggression by Russia against Ukraine, the leaders of these countries should help Ukraine in various ways,” Zelensky believes.
Kiev insists on guarantees that should be similar to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Collective Security Treaty. The Ukrainian government will be able to request consultations in three days if it becomes the target of military interference. And if they fail to produce any results, the countries guarantor should assist with weapons or close to the skies.
The guarantees are expected to include Ukraine’s commitment not to build military bases or alliances on its territory. But the most important thing is that the agreement should not hinder Ukraine’s right to join the European Union – that is, integration into the EU, along with a new ‘Marshall Plan’ that can compensate Ukraine for adopting a non-alignment stance and conceding territorial claims.
Ukraine wants something like NATO to help it protect itself. The security guarantees that are proposed to Ukraine look very similar to the ones offered by NATO. At the same time, Ukraine sees the members of the UN Security Council – plus the likes of Turkey, Germany, Canada, Poland, and Israel – as guarantors. Russia appears to have granted the go-ahead on the issue and offered to add Belarus to the list.
Although the current positions do contain significant compromises, it is important to remember that they are only statements. Implementing the agreements may prove to be the most difficult problem. Ukraine insists on the following: First, the agreements must be approved through a referendum. Then, the governments of all the countries involved must ratify the guarantees. According to David Arakhamia, a member of the Ukrainian delegation and chairman of the Servant of the People faction, the country’s voters may well reject the authorities’ decision to abandon the course towards NATO. The referendum results could essentially nullify the negotiations and restore the status quo.
It is a clever and practical position, which allows Ukraine to drag out the negotiations and ask for the withdrawal of Russian troops on its territory in order to hold a referendum. Russia doesn’t like this idea, for obvious reasons. It has good reason to do so. After all, Ukraine’s commitment to joining NATO was enshrined in the Constitution directly through a decision of the Verkhovna Rada, so its status as a non-aligned country can, likewise, be established without the help of a referendum. Russia won’t reconsider the fact that Ukraine cannot join the North Atlantic Alliance. As Russian officials never tire of repeating, the purpose the military operation is to exclude the possibility of the appearance of foreign troops and weapons near Russia’s borders.
While the negotiations are not in jeopardy at this point, there is no guarantee that they will continue. However, neither have both sides made any significant progress. The talks are negatively affected by mutual distrust, as well as by a lack of commitment to strong, long-term peace guarantees for Russia, and by Ukraine’s unwillingness to abandon its claims to the Donbass and Crimea. However, Russia’s modest goals will be a part of the new Yalta. It is evident that NATO and Russia need to engage in dialogue in order for Ukraine’s crisis to be resolved. However, the success of any international decisions depends entirely on the actions taken by major international players.