I get the “alarmed” part. After all, the reason Ukraine is fighting a war right now is because … the west doesn’t want to guarantee its security. The U.S. and its allies know that Putin has a complex about Ukrainian sovereignty and was always apt to make a move on it. They didn’t want to be dragged into a hot war with Russia.
So go figure that Ukrainian chatter about a “Ukrainian NATO” might cause some consternation.
I’m not sure about the “surprised” part, though. The Ukrainians have been talking about western security guarantees as a condition of a peace deal for weeks now. They’re going to fight this war to the bitter end and then they’re going to make some concessions to Russia and then they’re never going to fight Russia alone again. Or at least, that’s their plan.
Do, er, any Ukrainian allies happen to share that plan? Few takers so far, reports the Times:
Ukrainian officials envision an arrangement in which a diverse group of countries — potentially including NATO members like the United States, Britain, Turkey, France and Germany — would commit, if Ukraine were attacked, to defending it. To some security analysts, however, that sounds very much like NATO’s doctrine of collective defense by another name…
But Ukraine’s request, which took many in Washington by surprise and sent the pulses of some American diplomats racing with alarm, has raised questions as to how such an arrangement would work and whether it would ever really be palatable for the Kremlin.
Why the hell would Russia agree to peace deal in which Ukraine receives the key benefit of NATO, a mutual defense pact with the west, when Russia has been adamant that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO for that very reason?
In fact, what Ukraine wants is a deal that’s stronger than NATO. Under NATO, members confer when one of them is attacked and then plot a way forward. What the Ukrainians have in mind for their own security guarantees is something much faster, almost automatic:
Under the guarantees proposed by Ukraine on March 29, guarantor countries must consult each other within three days after the beginning of military aggression or hybrid war, Arakhamia said. After consultations, these countries must provide aid to Ukraine by sending troops, supplying weapons and protecting Ukraine’s sky, he added.
Such guarantor countries may include the U.S., the U.K., China, Russia, France, Turkey, Germany, Canada, Italy, Poland, and Israel. Other countries will also be able to join, Arakhamia said. These guarantees should also help Ukraine join the European Union.
A U.S./China alliance riding to the rescue against Russia in Ukraine? I guess if you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big.
You can’t fault the Ukrainians for wanting a clear and firm commitment this time. They got shafted 30 years ago with the Budapest Memorandum when Russia kinda sorta agreed to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and the U.S. kinda sorta agreed to defend Ukraine if Russia didn’t but nothing was binding and so all parties duly forgot about the arrangement in time — except Ukraine, of course. They’ve learned a hard lesson and refuse to repeat their mistake. “The activation mechanism is even stronger than NATO. In NATO if something happens you have to do the consultations first,” said Arakhamia to reporters, sketching out his plan for a new defense pact with the west. “There is no mention of how long it might take. Considering how fast things are going on, we put 72 hours max. So within 72 hours, all the guarantors have to figure out what’s going on, if it’s aggression or special operation or war, they have to provide military assistance or armies.”
Western diplomats heard that, side-eyed each other, then began laughing nervously as sweat started beading on their foreheads. The UK has already ruled out such an arrangement, insisting that it “will not unilaterally replicate the same commitments to Ukraine which apply to NATO members.” France is willing to support some sort of security guarantee for Ukraine but nothing along the lines of Article 5. Germany signaled a “general willingness” to discuss the idea but has declined to say whether any deal might involve military support.
Imagine the Germans being back on the battlefield in Ukraine, allied this time with the natives against Russia.
I assume western powers will suggest a deal in which they’re bound to supply Ukraine with weapons in the event of another Russian invasion, maybe even more advanced weapons than they’re currently receiving, but no troops. Boris Johnson is already scrambling to boost Ukrainian capabilities, in fact; it’s a cinch that NATO would be willing to arm Ukraine to the teeth (or at least as much as Moscow will tolerate) next time in exchange for Zelensky backing off his demands for military support in a future war. Another possibility is a “limited” alliance in which Ukraine would enter into a “NATO lite” mutual defense pact with its immediate neighbors like Poland, but that could get tricky since Poland is also a member of NATO. If Russia attacks Ukraine five years from now, then Poland enters the fight per its alliance with Ukraine, then Russia retaliates by attacking Warsaw, is the U.S. then bound by Article 5 to enter too?
There’s another wrinkle. A “NATO lite” alliance in the eastern bloc to which the U.S. and western Europe aren’t party might be seen by Putin as an inducement to try to take all of eastern Europe. If “all” he has to worry about in attacking Ukraine is fighting Poland and the Baltics too, not the heavyweights further west, he might consider that an attractive way to rebuild Russia’s empire on its western border in a single conflict. One would hope that the performance of his army in Ukraine has sobered him up about the implausibility of that happening, that if he can’t handle the Ukrainians he certainly can’t handle the Ukrainians plus the Poles plus the Estonians, etc etc. But if he was capable of miscalculating badly enough to believe he might take Kiev in a week, he’s presumably capable of miscalculating badly enough to think he might take all eastern Europe in a month. Which means a lot of dead bodies, even in a losing cause.
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