Thursday, November 27, 2014
9

Neutralizing Ukraine

LONDON – Though no one imagines that a lasting cease-fire in Gaza will, in itself, produce a substantive breakthrough in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the United States and other concerned governments continue to work tirelessly to halt the fighting. Yet, when it comes to the escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine, the relevant external powers – that is, the US, the European Union, and Russia – are not only failing to achieve a cease-fire; they are refusing to pursue a solution that, unlike in the case of Israel and Palestine, is there for the taking.

All that is needed is to introduce into the Ukrainian constitution a provision that significantly impedes membership in any military alliance, whether NATO or the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization of the Commonwealth of Independent States. For example, the decision to join such an alliance – or even to implement an agreement that allows a foreign country to base its troops on Ukrainian soil – could require the approval of a qualified majority of, say, two-thirds of voters or regional legislatures.

Introducing such a requirement would amount to granting veto power to Ukraine’s two camps – that is, the country’s more Russia-aligned east and its NATO-leaning west. The practical result – Ukraine remaining unaligned in military and security terms – would reflect the will of the Ukrainian population as a whole.

This approach would be consistent with the principle, which US President Barack Obama highlighted when announcing the latest round of sanctions against Russia last month, that Ukraine must be permitted to “chart its own path.” Above all, it would help the people of Ukraine – divided between inherently antagonistic identities – to live together peacefully.

Of course, Ukraine’s position may change in the future, with cultural, demographic, and economic shifts producing the needed consensus to abandon neutrality. What is important is that the constitution requires a super-majority – rather than, say, the easily reversible “non-bloc” resolution that the Ukrainian parliament adopted in 2010 – to join a military alliance. In such a deeply divided country, joining NATO by a simple majority vote would merely exacerbate unrest, regardless of Russia’s involvement.

Such a solution could also incorporate other, less controversial elements, such as additional powers for eastern Ukraine’s regional authorities, which they could exercise in Russian. Moreover, Russia could be convinced to accept Ukraine’s pursuit of economic integration with the EU, in exchange for cooperative efforts to counter schemes to use Ukraine’s free-trade agreement with the EU as a back door for European goods entering the Russian market.

As it stands, the West is relying on increasingly tough sanctions to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to back down, leaving the Ukrainian rebels either to surrender or be crushed – and enabling the Ukrainian government to dictate the terms of the country’s future. Judging from the 14-point peace plan that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko proposed in June, the limited concessions that would be offered would not include veto power for eastern Ukraine over the establishment of a military alliance with the US.

For its part, Russia is working to sustain the insurgency because it wants sufficient leverage to ensure Ukrainian neutrality in the inevitable peace talks. Given that Ukraine’s neutrality does not run counter to Russia’s interests, but continued sanctions do, the Kremlin would have no convincing reason to reject an outcome that keeps Ukraine strategically non-aligned, and instead continue supporting the rebels.

To be sure, Putin’s agenda in Ukraine is widely assumed to extend well beyond preventing the country from becoming a base for anti-Russian military forces. If Putin’s goal is annexation or subversion of more Ukrainian territory, he would likely reject the solution, even if Ukraine (perhaps reluctantly) supported it.

But it would be irrational to reject a solution with the potential to save so many lives based on an unsubstantiated assumption. Only by proposing ts deal to Russia’s government – as well as to the rebel groups in eastern Ukraine – can its stance be known.

In fact, there is plenty of reason to believe that Putin would be satisfied if Ukraine remained intact, as long as it did not join NATO and respected eastern Ukrainians’ Russian identity. Most important, from Russia’s perspective, the competition with the EU over Ukraine’s trading alignment is trivial compared to the imperative of keeping NATO – that is, the US military – out of the country.

In the Ukrainian crisis, unlike in the Israel-Palestine conflict, negotiators do not have to settle for flimsy agreements – intended to save as many lives as possible in the short run – at the expense of important principles and long-run peace prospects. Policymakers have an option that addresses the root cause of the crisis, at once upholding Ukrainian sovereignty and assuaging Russia’s strategic insecurity. They should pursue it.

Read more from "NATO Wakes Up"

  • Contact us to secure rights

     

  • Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (9)

    Please login or register to post a comment

    1. CommentedDavid Morgan

      Whilst I agree with the tenure of the article, Russia's breaches of international law has to be dealt with. The cost to Russia has to be as high as possible including war crimes for the shooting down of a civilian aircraft. Close the Dardanelles to all Russian shipping until the Crimea has been fully returned and reparations given. If President Putin wants a fight with the World he needs to fully realize the cost.

    2. CommentedValery Kavaleuski

      The article misses the annexation of Crimea, which Ukraine and the rest of the world are not willing to recognize. Moreover, officials in Ukraine swear they will return the peninsular. This can become a standing obstacle to any talks to achieve permanent solution.
      But most important, why would Ukrainians agree to the neutrality clause when Russians have already proved that their imperial appetite is back.

    3. CommentedSergey Zavyalov

      The author is 100% correct, but that would only stymie an armed conflict with Russia for another decade at most. Unfortunately for us all, an armed NATO vs Russia conflict is just a matter of time, people on both sides are just too greedy.

    4. Commentedshanmugham anand

      Alas! The neutrality of Ukraine is precisely what Moscow has been aiming for since 2002. Had Ukraine been offered Membership Action Plan (MAP) by NATO in 2008, who would have blinked first now - NATO or Russia? Russia's annexation of Crimea has heightened Kiev's fears and firmly pushed it into the hands of West.

    5. CommentedCharles Crawford

      Fair enough. The best result now is (probably) that Ukraine remains formally eligible to join whatever international grouping it likes, but in fact takes a more or less 'neutral' position for the foreseeable future. This idea helps achieve that with no real loss of face for any side. Classic diplomatic sleight of hand.

      The main problem with this idea is that it misses one key benefit of a former communist country's moving towards NATO membership, namely the reforms needed to abolish the hard-core military intelligence structures inherited from the Soviet Union. The GRU tendency would still be corrupting Poland to major ruinous effect if it had not been weeded out in the NATO accession process

      That said, one result of this Ukraine episode might be a new resolve of Kiev to engage in the tough-love reforms needed to break the corrupt links with Russia that have wrecked the country's prospects, and scaling back GRU influence with NATO's active support and radical transparency initiatives should be a big priority in that.

    6. CommentedJames Dosher

      Hmmm...you need a committee to buy the gun, a different committee to buy the bullets, a third committee to load it, a fourth to aim it...and the burglar has shot you dead and taken your stuff. Welcome to living in the Ukraine, where you have to go above and beyond what everyone else has to do because of...keeping the Ukraine as weak and vulnerable as possible is the best for us; not for them. The problem is that the ethnic Russians knew what country they were in when it was founded - back in the 1950's. It was okay for them then. Today, if they don't like it, the response is to not steal your house and lot and give it to another nation. You were born in the Ukraine and odds are so were both your parents and all their grandparents. Learn to accept that, or leave. Russia has plenty of land and job opportunities. This is not Palestine/Israel. This is the equivalent of the Southwestern United States suddenly not liking how Washington D.C. treats Hispanic-Americans and trying to break away and join Mexico. Nope - not happening. If the unhappy Hispanics don't like the US, there is an entire subcontinent (Latin America) and most of another continent (South America minus Brazil) to go to. Let's not forget Spain itself. So 'No', don't divide the Ukraine up, or keep them weak. No country was ever saved from invasion by being too weak to resist. If the ethnic Russians are the true problem, show them the door and wish them better luck back in the Rodina.

        CommentedIv Vasev

        "The problem is that the ethnic Albanians knew what country they were in when it was founded - back in the 1917's. It was okay for them then. Today, if they don't like it, the response is to not steal your house and lot and give it to another nation. You were born in the Ukraine and odds are so were both your parents and all their grandparents. Learn to accept that, or leave. Serbia has plenty of land and job opportunities. This is not Palestine/Israel. This is the equivalent of the Southwestern United States suddenly not liking how Washington D.C. treats Hispanic-Americans and trying to break away and join Mexico. Nope - not happening. If the unhappy Hispanics don't like the US, there is an entire subcontinent (Latin America) and most of another continent (South America minus Brazil) to go to. Let's not forget Spain itself. So 'No', don't divide the Ukraine up, or keep them weak. No country was ever saved from invasion by being too weak to resist. If the ethnic Albanians are the true problem, show them the door and wish them better luck back in the motherland of Shqiperia."
        How come this logic was not followed then? How come lies were spread that hundreds of thousands of Albanians were disappearing? Milosevic was a fool, true and a dictator (also true) but what is then the fascist UKR government to pro-Russian citizens? Less hypocrisy, more truth please!

    7. Commentedhari naidu

      I think neutrality of Ukraine should have been considered when some of us first linked it Soviet Union - Finland War which ultimately resulted in constitutional neutrality of Finland - supported by Sweden.
      In a way, I've argued Swedish neutrality - during the cold war - was result of neutralizing Soviet intentions in Finland.
      In other words, Finnish sovereign neutrality was the causus belli of Swedish neutrality.
      In case of Ukraine, a citadel of ancient Russia, a political case can be made on neutralizing Ukraine; but it may surely become irrelevant as time passes and the conflict becomes endemic - part of east-west confrontation.

    8. CommentedJim Nail

      An interesting idea, Chris, and worth proposing to both sides. My own feeling is that Putin is not looking for a peaceful resolution right now, but I would love to be wrong. Meanwhile, confrontation with the West has been a godsend to the regime. Not so long ago they were terrified as mass pro-democracy demonstrations ruled the Russian streets. They even had to let Navalny run for mayor of Moscow, because of fear of the consequences if they openly crushed him. Now the opposition is universally branded "fifth columnists," and the political atmosphere has gone rabid. Even relatively progressive people are buying Putin's conspiracy theories about MH-17, the broader anti-Russian agenda of the West, etc. Putin now seems ensconced as dictator for life. Why would he jeopardize that by surrendering over the Ukraine? Moreover, he is finding new opportunities to make a little money and cement his position further. The boycott of Western fish products for instance will be a nice boost to the Russian fish monopoly, owned by - guess who - Timchenko. Further, the boycott of expensive imported foods and the general price increase of foodstuffs will help promote class conflict between Putin's natural power base among the rural and "lumpen" public, versus the urban technocratic upper middle class. Well, a big subject, and I won't try to cover more of it here. I do hope someone tries your formula. It has a chance of working.

    Featured