Ukraine and Russia: Any Deal Should Include NATO Membership

Saturday, December 23, 2023

I saw an interesting article in the New York Times today regarding possible Russian interest in negotiating a peace deal with Kyiv. 

As I discussed in a post last week, I think it would be foolish to let Putin off the hook by allowing him to declare victory in a war that's going so badly for Russia. I'd much rather see the Russian Army bleed out in eastern Ukraine than have it be in a position to recover and threaten Ukraine again in another few years. If the Ukrainians are willing to keep fighting, I think the US and its NATO allies should support them. 

But what if the Ukrainian government were to consider a peace plan? What might it look like?

According to the NYT: 

Mr. Putin has been signaling through intermediaries since at least September that he is open to a cease-fire that freezes the fighting along the current lines, far short of his ambitions to dominate Ukraine, two former senior Russian officials close to the Kremlin and American and international officials who have received the message from Mr. Putin’s envoys say.

The Ukrainian government, of course, is not interested in making a deal with Russia, and I can't blame them. But I wonder: how easy is it ever going to be for Kyiv to re-integrate the Crimea and its currently-occupied eastern provinces? And that's assuming that Ukraine is able to eventually defeat Russia. 

If any peace deal between Russia and Ukraine is concluded, it should coincide with Ukraine joining NATO. As I've argued elsewhere, Putin's invasion of Ukraine is not just about Ukraine. It's about the NATO alliance. Prior to the invasion, Putin's demands were mostly generalized and about the alliance, and not Ukraine in particular. They included: 

* No further NATO enlargement.

* No NATO deployments to member states which joined the organization after 1997. 

* No more NATO training exercises in non-NATO countries in former Soviet space. 

* No re-armament of Ukraine.

* No deployment of US nuclear weapons outside the United States. 

* No deployment by NATO of short or intermediate range nuclear missiles within striking range of Moscow.

Ukraine was attacked by Russia precisely because it is not a member of NATO. It's therefore tempting to ask: what if Ukraine were to renounce the territories that are currently under Russian occupation (the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine) and then, in its truncated form, join the NATO alliance? 

One might ask the same question with regard to Georgia, parts of which have been under Russian occupation since the early 1990s. What if Tbilisi were to renounce its claims to Abkhazia and South Ossetia and join NATO as a smaller, but more secure, country? 

In some ways, the idea makes sense. For both Ukraine and Georgia, the single biggest obstacle to joining NATO now is the fact that Russia is occupying parts of their respective territories.  

Taking the matter even further, we could also include Moldova, whose Transnistria region has likewise been occupied by Russian "peacekeepers" since the USSR's breakup in 1991.  

I wonder if it would be possible for each of these three countries to unilaterally discard their Russian-occupied territories and immediately join the NATO alliance. It's not as if Russia's permission would be necessary for such a move. Putin might bitch and moan, just as he did with respect to the idea of Finland and Sweden joining the alliance, but what would he be able to do about it, especially now with his very degraded military forces

In some ways, it's a possibly attractive idea. In the case of Ukraine and Georgia, in particular, it seems implausible that separatist-controlled territories are going to be interested in reconciling with Kyiv and Tbilisi, respectively, anytime soon. Perhaps by making a clean break of things and giving up these territories, Ukraine and Georgia (and maybe Moldova, too, if they wanted) could join NATO without there being any concerns of NATO territory being under Moscow's control. 

As was the case with former Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe, where NATO membership constituted a prelude to joining the European Union, joining the NATO alliance would likely provide the kind of stability that would make it possible for these countries to eventually join the EU. Ukraine and Georgia could serve as models of comparison to neighboring statelets (the Crimea, eastern Ukraine, Abkhazia, South Ossetia) that, no matter what, will likely remain suffocatingly authoritarian and under Moscow's control for the foreseeable future. Sort of like West Germany vis-a-vis East Germany during the Cold War. 

In writing all of this, I'm mainly just thinking out loud. I don't really believe that there's any chance that politicians in Kyiv, or Tbilisi, will go for the idea of just giving up large parts of their territory. After all, it's easy for me to suggest divvying up other people's countries. The situation looks quite different when it's yours that's getting partitioned. 

But maybe, and especially if it looks like western support for Ukraine's defense is drying up, it might be something worth considering. While ceding territory to Russia would doubtless be seen in both Kyiv and Tbilisi as a stinging defeat, gaining immediate admission to NATO might make the move seem more worthwhile. 


Before I sign off, there's one last point that needs to be made: NATO is only as good as the US president's commitment to it. If the US elects a president who doesn't take NATO seriously, or who wishes to withdraw from the alliance, all bets are off. While Congress has recently passed a bill preventing any US president from unilaterally pulling out of NATO, a president who wishes to undermine the alliance, or render it ineffective, can still do so. 

And if that happens, we're all screwed. 

More on the Russia-Ukraine War: 

Regrouping in Belgrade N & P

Russia-Ukraine Notes: Early October Edition

All Crimea/Ukraine posts since 2008

Re Russia-Ukraine: Changes Coming?

Back and Forth in the Quagmire

A "Mission Accomplished" Moment?

This past week...

More Thoughts Re Ukraine and NATO

The USA: NATO's Weakest Link?

Brown Trouser Time

Looking for the Long-Term in Putin's Moves

Moscow Recognizes Two Breakaway Republics: Why do this?

South Ossetia and the Fate of the 'Mini-Republics' (from 2008)

No comments:

Post a Comment