Online Expert Chat, 12 August 2022Ukraine’s residing in Europe’s ‘grey zone’ has in many ways contributed to Russia’s invasion and caused a deep crisis in European and global security. The Budapest memorandum proved insufficient and is viewed by many as a model of how security guarantees should not look like. Non-membership of Ukraine in NATO and EU turned out to rather weaken than strengthen Europe’s security. Russian invasion has started a war which now seems very difficult to end. However, any attempts to do so would require addressing the issues of Ukraine’s security. Credible and effective guarantees are likely to become a necessary component of any formal agreement. But security guarantees engage risks and costs. Will it be possible to find a solution?
Why Europe should also be interested in security guarantees for Ukraine?
Why should any state take risks of providing security guarantees for Ukraine?
What’s the best format for securing Ukraine?
Can Russia be a credible security guarantor for Ukraine?
Dr Yevgeniya Gaber, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council in Turkey (Ukraine)
James Rogers, Co-Founder and Director of Research, Council on Geostrategy (United Kingdom)
Dr Andras Rasz, Associate Fellow, German Council on Foreign Relations (Hungary)
Iuliia Kazdobina, Head of the Ukrainian Foundation for Security Studies (Ukraine)
Moderator – Dr Mykola Kapitonenko, Co-Editor at UA: Ukraine Analytica, Associate Professor at Kyiv Institute of International Relations, Ukraine
The event is organized by UA: Ukraine Analytica. This project is supported financially by the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation.
Dear friends, welcome to our UA: Ukraine Analytica online expert chat. We have an excellent opportunity to share opinions and launch discussion about one of the core issues before and during Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. I’m talking about security guarantees Ukraine was so much lacking during all three decades of independence. Today these guarantees are at the heart of the ongoing war. The whole day will probably be not enough to cover all details and nuances of possible ways for Ukraine to enhance its security after the war is over, especially given dramatic challenges for the current world order. Nevertheless,… Read more »
Good morning, colleagues ) Frankly, to me the very wording of the question sounds a bit strange. If we are talking about the current situation, with the premeditated Russian invasion and deliberate annihilation of civilians in full swing, then it’s not about security guarantees, it’s about ensuring Ukraine’s survival. And if one wants to be pragmatic, then the motivation is to keep the potential attacker who has already demonstrated its approaches further away from one’s own borders. If one wants to take a values-based approach, then it’s about correcting a major injustice and preventing erosion of the international law which… Read more »
Russia is going to stay at our borders after the war, Yulia, thus the question is how to arrange international commitments to keep Ukraine as protected as possible.
Russia is going to stay at our borders but things are going to change in terms of it capabilities. The way it is perceived is also going to change. So, I think it makes no sense for us to act as a younger brother this time to Europe or whoever else but try to gain and equal standing. For this reason, I think we should stop talking about the west providing security guarantees to us. I think we should talk about defeating our common enemy and keeping it down unless it changes while jointly building ourselves up.
Greetings all! Thanks for your first question, Mykola. To answer, we need to determine what we mean by ‘Europe’, as Europe is just a continent, which includes, or excludes, based on your perception, Russia, and several other countries. I assume by Europe we do not include Russia; an aggressor cannot provide security assurances. The next problem is that some European countries are too inconsequential in terms of power to offer meaningful security assurances to Ukraine. In fact, if you boil it down, only Britain and France are nuclear weapons states, so only they can deter Russia to the highest spectrum.… Read more »
Yes, James, apparently ‘Europe’ needs specification as well understanding of all nuances of approaches on a state level.
You also have raised an issue requiring a separate discussion, that is of what is defined by ‘victory’ for both sides. Or, in other words, the spectrum of acceptable outcomes.
Hi Mykola, Well, I think the reason is obvious – because Europe has seen what happens if it does not care about the security guarantees for Ukraine. Investing in Ukraine’s security is not charity or a gesture of good will. It is investing in European security by deterring increasingly aggressive Russia, with the help of Ukraine. Moral aspects aside, it is in pragmatic interests of the European states to have a sovereign de-occupied Ukraine with functioning institutions and enough capacity to stop Russia’s expansionism in the region. Russia is a revisionist state and it only stops where it is stopped.… Read more »
Thank you, Yevgeniya. I know this line of reasoning, it sounds really pragmatic. I’m tempted to get back to the issue of whether Europe would be investing into de-occupation of Ukraine or just in stopping Russian advance – but that would be a different story. Before the war, many pragmatic Europeans were assuming that providing guarantees to Ukraine is just too risky. The war might have shifted the calculations, but the question remains how fundamentally. Many still would say that protecting Ukraine brings Europe too close to a war against Russia; however Europe has been already engaged into the conflict… Read more »
Dear Mykola, I fully agree with your point. Yes, indeed, most EU-countries have already been engaged into the war, and so has the United States. In fact, most countries of the Trans-Atlantic community are sending almost everything to Ukraine, except of regular fighting forces. This is something that was unimaginable even half a year ago, even in early February 2022. And this unprecedented engagement and involvement of most EU countries and of the United States is changing the whole strategic landscape in the long run. It is changing the strategic landscape in the long run because such an intensive engagement… Read more »
Dear Andras, I do share your view on a changing security landscape. Occasionally wondering how far that path dependency would bring the EU and NATO. I guess, there no answer there as well, since the war is bringing about huge uncertainty.
Very true on the one hand, sure; the situation is a lot more uncertain than it was before 24 February. On the other hand, what I mean by path dependency is the need for Europe and the U.S. to keep up the support for Ukraine. Otherwise, if we let Ukraine fall, we would suffer triple losses. First, we’d evidently look incompetent, i.e, why did we invest so much into Ukraine, if we let Ukraine fall thereafter? Second, we would suffer also plenty material losses, i.e., the assets and people we invested, both in terms of transfering equipment and also in… Read more »
Dear Mykola, In my understanding, Russia has been engaged in conflict with Europe ever since it started applying disinformation and strategic corruption. So for Europe there is not much of a choice. The only question is intensity of the conflict. And then Russia’s ability to escalate comes into play. It is definitely now positioned to escalate in terms of disinformation and economic pressure but would it risk a military escalation against NATO? Does it have the ability to escalate militarily? If we put the nuclear option aside, I don’t think it does. Its conventional forces are tied down in Ukraine… Read more »
Dear Yulia, a part of the price Russia had to pay for the invasion, was a radical diminishment of its ability to issue threats of escalation. That’s something Moscow enjoyed in 2014-2022 but now lacks.
Nevertheless, corruption and disinformation may seem different for Europeans than fighting a conventional war. That’s the risk they now face and have to take into account in my view.
Could you elaborate what you mean by the risk? You think Russia is going to attack Europe?
My main point was that Europe is already involved and not because it chose to do so but because Russia started first. And I do understand that corruption and information warfare are not as dangerous as conventional. But my point is exactly that Russia does not have either the grit or the capability to launch the war. Although its rhetoric and threats may sound scary.
Some very interesting points in this thread. Especially on the level of possible engagement of the European countries in supporting Ukraine – and I believe this will be different for different countries, both in scope and areas of engagement. That is whyIn this regard, a tailored approach to security guarantees from different partners might be an option to consider. While some would step in to provide military support and weapons the others might just be willing to contribute financially to Ukraine’s own defence capacity-building (which is also important) or counter electronic warfare etc. etc. Just to throw in another thesis… Read more »
Alliances imply not only benefits (protection and free–riding) but also costs. The latter are about chances of being engaged into a war.
Today states are very careful about managing their risks and thus carefully pick alliance commitments. Protection of others may prove to be too costly.
My second question is linked to the first one and also to initial discussion.
Why should any state take risks of providing security guarantees for Ukraine?
Possibly, this question has been the key one for Ukraine to answer in a dialogue with NATO members before and during the war.
This question is more complicated than the last, but boils down to a simple observation beyond collective security (i.e., that all countries should afford Ukraine assistance under the UN Charter). That is that Russia is a kleptocratic, authoritarian regime. Its sole interest is upholding power. This means it seeks to snuff out democratic forces in surrounding nations, particularly Ukraine, the one country which could act as an alternative for the Russian people to seize on in the future as an example they might want to emulate. The Kremlin therefore looks to control Ukraine and other countries not under UK/US nuclear… Read more »
Thank you, James, in particular for bringing some normative approaches in.
I echo James’ arguments here. Obviously, Russia’s aims in this war include (1) not to have Ukraine as a sovereign state and as a threat to Putin’s regime; (2) to test the limitations of the Western political will / unity / readiness to defend their partners and their values; and (3) by capitalizing on the “weaknesses” of the liberal institutions, indecisiveness to act and lack of leadership to show to other countries that NATO/EU/US are not credible allies (and international law does not apply to a country with nukes). Take Turkey as an example. It is a NATO member and… Read more »
Dear Friend and Colleagues, thank you very much for the invitation to contribute. First, I think it is important to be very exaxt about the terminology: should we talk about security guarentees, defense guarantees or something else? Second, regarding the problem of international security guarantees to be given for Ukraine, I am afraid we cannot ignore the political-historical impetus of the Budapest Memorandum, on its full name Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. This document, signed in 1994 ultimately failed in 2014 and has been failing ever since then. Hence, we need to come up with something way more realistic and… Read more »
Yes, Andras, the Budapest Memorandum has become a synonym of a security policy failure in Ukraine and is often referred to. We try to focus on how Ukraine’s security can be enhanced (how about security enhancement?) after the war. There will be plenty of dimensions to this enhancement, one of them is international. Providing a working mechanism for lowering risks of another Russia’s war against Ukraine – in or outside or beside NATO – is likely to be a key question for the future of European security architecture.
My third question is as follows: what’s the best format for securing Ukraine?
I remember writing a paper with roughly the same focus back in 2014. NATO membership was the best but at the same time least likely option.
Are things different today?
We must be very clear: membership of NATO is not – I repeat NOT – an automatic security assurance. It is a pledge. Through the North Atlantic Treaty, allies pledge to come to the assistance of another ally, should it come under attack from beyond the alliance, within the North Atlantic area. This assistance does not even need to include military force, but it can do. This is why the two preeminent powers within NATO, the UK and US, have always actualised their pledge by forward-deploying their conventional (and in the case of the US, tactical nuclear assets) to their… Read more »
Absolutely agree. NATO membership is a commitment, but it still depends on a final decision in a specific situation. That’s often forgotten, in particular in Ukraine.
I think we need to be fair and frank to ourselves: as long as Ukraine cannot restore full control over her territories, NATO membership is not a realistic option. The Alliance never takes in a country that has an ongoing territorial conflict. And Ukraine has such a conflict. Hence, for the foreseeable future I’m quite sure that we’ll need to look for another solution. Personally, I think that the best security guarantees Ukraine can have is Ukraine’s own military might. A strong, powerful Ukrainian army, supported by the government and the population is the best – and currently probably the… Read more »
Thank you, Andras. Sounds reasonable. Although at some point I was hoping that EU membership for Ukraine could have become a part to the solution.
I pretty much agree with Andras on the scope of the guarantees other countries will be willing / able to provide. For sure, the best security guarantee is the capability of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Realistically speaking, I do not see any higher level of support from the NATO nations than the one we have already reached. In political, financial, military terms. Can’t imagine commitment to go to war for/with Ukraine or provide more sophisticated weapons than the ones we have now. What can be improved though, is the level of coordination, quickness of reaction, preparedness for a possible… Read more »
And the last and the most provocative question for our discussion.
Can Russia be a credible security guarantor for Ukraine?
To answer that question: The current leadership of Russia seeks Ukraine’s dissolution. Unless that leadership changes, and changes fundamentally, Russia will remain an aggressive rogue state.
I fully agree, James. Actually, I agree 200%.
I don’t think it’s provocative at all. The answer is no.
How can one expect the country against whose aggression one is defending to guarantee it’s security? To make a simplistic but a relevant analogy it’s like entrusting sheep to a wolf.
Well, countries change over time. Regimes change as well.
I see clear division line among attitudes to Russia. It either is ‘eternal evil’ willing to conquer Ukraine no matter what its leadership says; or a state with adaptive policy.
In the former case there can be no trust to and no security guarantees from Russia. In the latter, both are possible.
Well, then I come back to the question I asked in the very beginning. Are we talking about the current situation or are we talking about some very distant future state? If it’s something theoretically hypothetical in the future things may change. But if we are talking about today and foreseeable future no change in Russia’s policy towards its neighbors is possible. Definitely not without a major upheaval. So, it will either continue to pose a diminished military threat or a different kind of threat altogether. I do not see Russia becoming a stable and benevolent country Ukraine can trust… Read more »
The short answer is no. The long answer is no – neither now, nor in the foreseeable future. The current war is not about Putin or the current regime. It is about Russia’s inability to be an empire (shared to different extents by basically all elites across the political spectrum) without Ukraine’s submission. Look at our history – Russian Empire, Soviet Union, genocides, Holodomors, deportations… What are we even talking about? It is structural, and is very unlikely to change with the change of names in the Kremlin. The tactics and rhetoric might vary from a collective Putin to a… Read more »
This is simple: no way. The failure of the Budapest Memorandum is only part of the story. More important is Russia’s recent agression and the increadible suffering and losses it inflicted upon Ukraine. I think it practically excludes that anybody would take any Russian security guarantee for Ukraine as a credible one. Let me give another example: how many times did Russia promise to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity? The 1991 agreement on the dissolution of the Soviet Union; the Budapest Memorandum in 1994; the Russia-Ukraine friendship treaty; the agreement on the stationing of the Black Sea Fleet; the… Read more »
Dear Andras, It is not about 8 years of war. As I mentioned above, it is about centuries of struggle for Ukraine’s independence and statehood starting from the Russian Empire, then Soviet Union, and then – the Russian Federation. The most recent glaring example of how “serious” Russia is taking any treaties/deals which it signs, is a brutal missile attack on Odesa sea port, just hours after the grain deal was inked. And even now there are still talks about a possibility of turning the Joint Coordination Center, which was established under this initiative in Istanbul, into a possible platform… Read more »
Dear Yevgeniya, regarding the question on “if Moscow has never ever sticked to its international commitments, why should it do so now?”, perhaps the agricultural export scheme offers a possible answer. Russia sticks to its international commitments in those cases, when breaking the commitment would imply SIGNIFICANTLY higher costs than keeping it. The Istanbul agreement will be a good example (if it holds, of course): in Istanbul, Russia agreed not to attack grain exporting ships. In exchange, the EU softened some of the sanctions on Russia, so Russia could re-start its own grain export. So far this scheme seems to… Read more »
Dear friends! Thanks to all of you for a fruitful discussion. What I personally take from it is that security guarantees for Ukraine is a tough issue. Given the transformations brought about by the war, it’s becoming even tougher. We do have an example of Budapest memorandum, and we used to refer to it when it comes to security mechanism that failed; but it’s really difficult to imagine how the West should do better. The war is far from over; thus the uncertainty is high. NATO is not a panacea, though membership could have been a significant step ahead. Whether… Read more »