NATO Summit: three scenarios for Ukraine
“More than 20 NATO member states support Ukraine’s accession to the Alliance,” according to Azerbaijan in Focus, reporting Turan News, citing the Ukrainian government reports. Indeed, over the past few months, Ukraine has been preparing for the NATO summit, which will take place in Vilnius in July. The primary efforts have been focused on getting as much support as possible and, potentially, some specific decisions in our favor.
Here it would be helpful to recall the summit in Bucharest in 2008. At the time, Putin talked about friendship and peace, and less than four months later invaded Georgia. He partly did so because he received assurances that neither Ukraine nor Georgia would be part of the Alliance. It would seem that it is time for the world to learn this lesson: joining NATO is not a reason for escalation, but not joining is. But what is the mood among Ukraine and its allies?
Naturally, Ukraine wants guarantees of accession, whether now or after the war, but a clear invitation to join NATO, a clear roadmap, and finally, a move away from the rhetoric of an “open door” that no one invites us to enter. After all, we have been standing on the threshold for too long, and now we have every chance of being killed on that very threshold.
Ukrainian diplomats are working tirelessly to gain support for the accession. A year ago, the Presidential Administration drafted the so-called Kyiv Security Treaty, in which they tried to create room for maneuver by describing security guarantees as broadly as possible. What guarantees, what mechanism – the Kyiv Security Agreement does not answer these questions. It is not surprising. They still had hope and a bit of naivety for bilateral security guarantees. But as it turned out, no one is in a hurry to provide them.
Therefore, full membership in the Alliance is the only realistic option to avoid a future war with Russia. After all, the Budapest Memorandum and a series of hybrid and conventional wars with Russia, there is no doubt in Ukrainian politics about this. However, our expectations are only our expectations. What do our partners think?
Meanwhile, there is no unanimity among the twenty NATO member states that are ready to see Ukraine as a member, not to mention the nine that have not yet spoken out. Whatever one may say, we have to realize that they fear and do not want a war with Russia, they fear and want to avoid its disintegration, and they mostly do not believe in Ukraine’s return to the 1991 borders.
So, what three scenarios do our partners see for us?
Scenario 1. To continue arming Ukraine. This is the very essence of the “support as long as necessary” mantra. This is not the worst option and is minimally acceptable to us. Obviously, without sustained Western support, we will not be able to wage war on our own against Russia, which has many times more resources. However, the current level of Western support is not even minimally sufficient to fully fulfill our tasks. This is a mountain of work for our diplomats and military – more weapons, more training, fewer restrictions, and so on. Otherwise, it will be a notorious “war of attrition” for years, with the potential for the conflict to freeze when these resources – or the political will to provide them – run out. This means a new war is likely on the horizon in 5-20 years.
Scenario 2. Joining immediately after the victory. Most who are ready to see Ukraine become a NATO member agree with this scenario. The only problem here is the definition of “victory” and its achievement. Is victory the borders of February 24? 1991? For us, it is 1991, but as I mentioned above, few people believe that victory is possible in this configuration. Again, this requires many more weapons, much more support, sanctions, and the isolation of Russia. Is the West ready for this? The answer to this question is one which we may not like. Therefore, the concrete prospect of joining is good, but we must still crawl to victory. And we don’t have a lot of internal resources for this, even with Western support.
Scenario 3. Joining during the war. Few support this option because it would raise the question of the Alliance’s entry into the war. This scenario has two options: direct NATO involvement in the war, which absolutely no one is ready for, not even our closest friends. And the second option is the “German” one – joining in parts. But the difference from the situation in the FRG-GDR is enormous. Germany and the GDR were two states recognized by the international community. Yes, it was a divided Germany, but it was two state entities. In our case, we have territories occupied and illegally annexed by a third party, though any sane state in the world does not recognize the change of affiliation. The question of political, security, and legal mechanisms in this scenario remains open and will require enormous diplomatic work.
Over the past year and a half, Ukraine has had more than one or two lessons in the realistic perception of its situation. But it has succeeded more than once or twice where success was considered impossible. In the case of the NATO summit, we should not be enchanted lest we be disappointed. The geopolitical reality is much more complex than we imagine when we think the world has become Ukraine-centered.
At the same time, we should not despair. We are hitting a few rocks much bigger than we can handle, but well-coordinated work, unity, and perseverance have helped us more than once. So, with a cool head, a clear understanding of the national interest, and a steely grip, we are working on an invitation to join NATO at the Vilnius Summit. Lithuanians have always supported us unwaveringly, so let this summit in Vilnius become a landmark. It was in Vilnius that Yanukovych finally destroyed Ukraine’s security by refusing to sign the Association Agreement, so in Vilnius, this security should be restored by providing a clear roadmap for NATO membership.