A so­lu­tion for the Ukrainian quag­mire

There’s a way to avoid war through per­ma­nent neu­tral­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Pas­cal Lot­taz and Her­bert Regin­bo­gin Pas­cal Lot­taz is a pro­fes­sor at Tem­ple Univer­sity, Ja­pan Cam­pus. Her­bert R. Regin­bo­gin is a fel­low of the Catholic Univer­sity of Amer­ica. They are the edi­tors of “No­tions of Neu­tral­i­ties” (Row­man & Lit­tle­field, 2018

Af­ter four years of armed con­flict, 10,000 ca­su­al­ties and 1.5 mil­lion in­ter­nally dis­placed, the dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion be­tween Ukraine and Rus­sia es­ca­lated again on Nov. 25. Rus­sian mil­i­tary ves­sels rammed, shot at and seized three Ukrainian mil­i­tary ships that were rou­tinely and legally pass­ing through the Kerch Strait.

This rep­re­sents a new di­men­sion of the con­flict. Un­like the covert op­er­a­tion in 2014, which led to the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, or the Rus­sian-sup­ported mil­i­tant up­ris­ings in east­ern Ukraine, the Rus­sian mil­i­tary is this time vis­i­bly en­gaged in us­ing force against Kiev.

De­spite the bla­tant in­fringe­ment on in­ter­na­tional law, com­mon norms and the bru­tal strong-arm­ing of Ukraine, one thing needs to be noted; to Rus­sia, Europe has al­ways been a se­cu­rity threat. Euro­pean armies in­vaded it twice dur­ing the past cen­tury. In World War II alone the Soviet Union lost be­tween 20 mil­lion and 30 mil­lion peo­ple, in­clud­ing 6 mil­lion and 7 mil­lion Ukrainian deaths. An un­prece­dented car­nage.

Not to for­get that also the demise of the U.S.S.R. came from Europe; first the loss of the Com­mu­nist East­ern Euro­pean satel­lite states, then the break­ing away of the Baltic nations, and fi­nally the dec­la­ra­tions of in­de­pen­dence from Ukraine, Be­larus and Rus­sia. It was the “Euro­peaniza­tion” of its for­mer ter­ri­to­ries that spelled the end of Moscow’s grand sphere of in­flu­ence and its po­si­tion as a world power.

The root cause for the Ukrainian con­flict is there­fore not the Kerch Strait; it is the se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment in the East­ern Euro­pean re­gion. Ever since the oust­ing of the pro-Rus­sian gov­ern­ment of Vik­tor Yanukovych dur­ing the violent up­ris­ing in Kiev in 2014, and the sub­se­quent change to a pro-Euro­pean gov­ern­ment, Rus­sia fears a Ukrainian rap­proche­ment to the EU and NATO.

Any so­lu­tion to the sit­u­a­tion must sat­isfy Rus­sian se­cu­rity needs to­ward Europe. Moscow’s armed con­flict with neigh­bor­ing Ge­or­gia in 2008 was a stark warn­ing that a fur­ther east­ward ex­pan­sion of NATO is an un­ac­cept­able risk which it will try to pre­vent at any cost.

Rus­sia’s best-case sce­nario for Ukraine would be a close se­cu­rity al­liance un­der the um­brella of the Com­mon­wealth of In­de­pen­dent States (CIS). That, how­ever, is cur­rently not pos­si­ble due to the strong West­ern lean­ing of a ma­jor­ity of the Ukrainian pop­u­la­tion. Un­der these cir­cum­stances, a fee­ble Ukraine is in the best in­ter­est of Moscow. Un­able to move the bal­ance of power to­ward NATO, Kiev will be met with

Rus­sian pres­sure un­til a regime change leads to Moscow’s de­sired out­come.

The only other op­tion to solve the sit­u­a­tion is to cre­ate a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial out­come for all sides. That could be achieved through the “per­ma­nent neu­tral­ity” of Ukraine. Like Aus­tria, which was neu­tral­ized through an in­ter­na­tional treaty agree­ment in 1955 that de­clared it off-lim­its for both NATO and the War­saw Pact, the Ukrainian quag­mire could be solved by uti­liz­ing per­ma­nent neu­tral­ity. In fact, since its in­de­pen­dence in 1991, Ukraine was it­self flirt­ing with the idea of declar­ing neu­tral­ity. That is the rea­son why it did not join Be­larus and Rus­sia in the CIS al­ready.

A sta­ble neu­tral so­lu­tion would, how­ever, only be achiev­able through an in­ter­na­tional treaty agree­ment be­tween the ma­jor pow­ers in the re­gion. The EU, the United States and Rus­sia would have to de­clare their will­ing­ness to rec­og­nize Ukraine as a per­ma­nently neu­tral state. For Ukraine, this would mean a re­newed guar­an­tee for its rights as a sovereign na­tion, in­clud­ing self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity.

On the other hand, that would come with the obli­ga­tion not to join any mil­i­tary al­liance and not to pro­vide sup­port for for­eign mil­i­taries. Ukraine would still be able to buy weapons from which­ever sources it pleased, and it could also main­tain its armed forces — neu­tral­ity is not paci­fism.

A per­ma­nently neu­tral Ukraine would be a guar­an­tee to Rus­sia and NATO that it never be­came part of a hos­tile al­liance. That would sta­bi­lize the re­gion and in­verse the se­cu­rity logic for Rus­sia. The un­sta­ble sit­u­a­tion in the Don­bas and around the wa­ters of Crimea would sud­denly not be in Moscow’s best in­ter­est any­more. It would make more sense to foster an in­sti­tu­tion­ally strong buf­fer zone to the rest of the con­ti­nent.

The Crimean Penin­sula could also be in­cluded in a neu­tral­ity agree­ment as a neu­tral ter­ri­tory which could serve as the ba­sis for a ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion of the an­nex­a­tion. At the same time, to Ukraine, per­ma­nent neu­tral­ity would serve as a guar­an­tee and a pur­pose.

As a rec­og­nized neu­tral, Kiev would be in a po­si­tion to me­di­ate in cri­sis, pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian ser­vices in war zones, pro­tect civil­ians, and join peace­keep­ing ac­tiv­i­ties like Switzer­land, Aus­tria and Swe­den have been do­ing for decades. There­fore, a per­ma­nently neu­tral Ukraine should be dis­cussed se­ri­ously among the pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Moscow, Kiev, Ber­lin, Paris, Lon­don and Wash­ing­ton.

The Crimean Penin­sula could also be in­cluded in a neu­tral­ity agree­ment as a neu­tral ter­ri­tory which could serve as the ba­sis for a ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion of the an­nex­a­tion.


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