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Ukraine calls for postwar security guarantees

September 15, 2022

In a new blueprint for a postwar order, several countries are to guarantee Ukraine's security as a precursor to NATO membership. Russia has expressed its disapproval in no uncertain terms.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sitting next to a display of the NATO logo
Ukraine now wants NATO membership, but some think this is a mistakeImage: UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/REUTERS

John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the US National Security Council, said he had seen a shift in momentum after Ukrainian forces recaptured vast areas in the northeast around the city of Kharkiv in recent days.

Others are more skeptical.

Eberhard Zorn, inspector general of the Bundeswehr, the German army, sees at best "counterattacks that can be used to win back towns or individual sections of the front, but not to push Russia back on a broad front," as he told German news magazine Focus on Saturday.

From its recent position of relative strength, the Ukrainian leadership has now presented a security concept for the postwar period.

It was presented jointly in Kyiv by Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine's presidential office, and former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Long-term goal: NATO membership

Rasmussen's involvement already shows where the journey for Ukraine is supposed to lead: in the long term, toward NATO membership.

But first, the Ukrainian army is to be equipped and trained for the future, so that it can repel further Russian attacks.

A group of countries, the paper said, should guarantee Ukraine's security. The following are mentioned as possible guarantor states: the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Poland, Italy, France, Australia, Turkey, the countries of northern Europe and the Baltic states.

Roderich Kiesewetter, security policy spokesman for Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), called the concept "sensible and realistic as soon as Ukraine has restored its territorial integrity."

NATO accession should also "remain a goal for Ukraine," Kiesewetter told DW. Among the guarantor states, in his opinion, should be nuclear powers, "so that they also hold the nuclear umbrella over Ukraine. Otherwise, there would be a danger that Russia would continue to act with nuclear threats or blackmail."

For political scientist Johannes Varwick of the University of Halle, the concept is indeed "a sensible consideration for the 'time after.'"

"But the difficulty of security guarantees lies in the fact that, on the one hand, they have to be credible in order to be useful for Ukraine, and on the other hand, they have to be below the binding force of the mutual assistance clause of Article 5 of the NATO treaty in order to be acceptable to Russia," Varwick told DW.

Ukraine's battlefield gains: Putin under pressure?

Vague commitments and bad experience

Ukraine has become less modest about its future security over the course of the war. Whereas Kyiv had hinted at the beginning of the war that the country could remain permanently neutral, NATO accession is now seen as essential.

At the end of August, Ukraine's deputy prime minister for European integration, Olha Stefanishyna, said that only direct membership was now an option for her country.

This insistence was probably also a reaction to the G7 meeting in Germany at the end of June. In their final declaration then, the G7 states expressed their willingness to "agree on long-term security commitments to help Ukraine in its self-defense." When DW asked Chancellor Olaf Scholz if he could be more specific about these security pledges, he replied in a widely shared video: "Yes, I could." After a grin and a brief pause, added, "That's it."

Ukraine has already had to learn how little international security pledges, even when formulated in concrete terms, can be worth with the so-called Budapest Memorandum of 1994. In return for handing over their nuclear weapons from the Soviet era, the three former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine received security guarantees from the USA, Britain and Russia.

They were assured of sovereignty and the inviolability of borders. Although the guarantor powers of the US and UK are today at the forefront of international arms assistance to Ukraine, they haven't intervened directly in military terms.

Today, more than ever, Ukraine is pushing to join the Western defense alliance. But political scientist Varwick, in contrast to CDU politician Kiesewetter, believes that this is a mistake because Russia would never accept it: "We should take the NATO question off the agenda. The NATO accession promise of 2008 was already a mistake, and even today this discussion creates more problems than it solves."

Ukraine Andriy Yermak
Ukraine's Andriy Yermak has called for new security guaranteesImage: krainian Presidential Press Off/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire/picture alliance

Medvedev: Guarantees would be 'prelude to World War III'

There have been conflicting statements in recent days as to whether Russia is now ready for new negotiations given the latest Ukrainian offensive. Russian representatives had sounded out whether negotiations were possible, Stefanishyna told broadcaster France24. But there has been no confirmation of this from Moscow.

Instead, Moscow reacted sharply to the concept of international security guarantees. These would be the "prelude to World War III," said former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

He said they would come close to the mutual assistance obligation under Article 5 of the NATO treaty. If Western countries tried to weaken Russia in this way, "the earth would burn and the concrete would melt" in their own countries, Medvedev threatened.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov even used Ukraine's desire for NATO membership to again justify Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "The greatest danger to our country also remains, and thus the reason for the need for the special military operation remains relevant, indeed it becomes even more relevant," Peskov told Russian news agency Interfax.

Russia's Dmitry Medvedev
Russia's Dmitry Medvedev said Ukraine's demands threaten a world warImage: Yekaterina Shtukina/ITAR-TASS/IMAGO

Little hope for peace

Chancellor Scholz, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone for the first time after a three-and-a-half-month break, does not see any willingness to negotiate on the part of Russia, either: "Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that the realization has now grown there that it was a mistake to start this war," Scholz said on Wednesday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed disillusionment after a phone call with Putin, saying "it would be naive to think that we are close to the possibility of a peace agreement."

For now, thoughts about a new post-war oder are confined to speculation.

Political scientist Varwick also believes security guarantees only make sense if they are part of a political solution "supported by both sides out of conviction."

But there is no question of that at present. Even in the latest Ukrainian offensive, he does not yet see "a real turning point in the war. Russia continues to have the means and the will to escalate and has not yet exhausted the escalation possibilities."

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