Security Guarantees for Ukraine

Who has enough courage to stop Russia?

25 August 2022

Christine Karelska

Future of Ukraine Fellow

As Ukraine enters the sixth month of Russia’s invasion, a security apparatus must come into force to defend Ukraine’s and other countries’ independence.

A war of attrition continues to terrorise Ukrainians and destabilise the global world order. For six months, Ukraine and the West have been looking in vain for peace and reliable security guarantees to protect Ukraine and the EU from future Russian aggression from Moscow. 

Furthermore, the post-Cold war security apparatus has changed dramatically, giving a rise to discussions in expert and political circles about the upcoming new world order. A recent Kantar Global Issues Barometer poll showed that the war in Ukraine tops the international agenda. It should immediately be dealt with as its ramifications are being felt globally. 

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The Budapest Memorandum is a bitter lesson for Ukraine and turned out to be just a piece of paper. Not only Ukraine but also the international security architecture needs a completely new set of security guarantees vis-à-vis the rising authoritarian axis Russia-China-Iran. There are many actors which are slated to provide Ukraine with the needed guarantees. Is there any chance for any international actor to become a harbinger of peace? What seat will each international player take at the new world order table?

The UN — Unable to Cope With Pressure 

Importantly, the invasion has highlighted the failings of the UN. It has undergone severe criticism that has fuelled debates about the necessary and profound reforms currently lacking as well as bringing into doubt its credibility and capabilities to maintain the international peace for which it was created. The organisation is not capable of swiftly responding to security challenges. 

Of course, the UN has made positive moves as well. In response to the invasion, Russia was taken off of the Human Rights Council, and their war atrocities are under investigation. Moreover,  UN agencies are providing substantial humanitarian aid to Ukraine. However, many still question why the Russian Federation is still in the UN Security Council and has veto power. After all, in the original ‘Big Five’ of the security council, it was the Soviet Union that was given a seat. Since its dissolution, Russia claimed to be its successor, cunningly circumventing international law and UN procedures. Membership termination and acquisition procedures with the General Assembly voting were disregarded. 

The UN Charter stipulates the membership of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics but not the Russian Federation. However, it still has a seat in the Security Council and abuses its veto right of any resolutions regarding its aggression which is illegal and illegitimate. 

Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya pointed out the impotence of the Security Council to adequately address the worst security crisis by holding multiple discussions without tangible results. Moreover, Russia ignores the International UN Court’s decision to stop the war. 

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acutely underlined that Russia could not stay in the Security Council as it violates all norms of the international order and committed genocide in Ukraine. Some mild solutions exist — Art. 27 (3) allows for the freezing of Russia’s right to vote regarding war issues in Ukraine, as it is a party in this conflict. The top priority for Ukraine is the exclusion of Russia from the Security Council, which would lead to the Kremlin’s inability to veto important resolutions. Nevertheless, this option is not possible as Russia is a nuclear state. 

Another unpleasant story that casts a shadow on the UN’s credibility is the grain deal violation by Russia as it launched a missile strike on the Odesa Sea Port hours after a consensus was found. A senior UN official said that technically Russia did not violate the deal as it hit ‘military targets’ but not port parts used for grain exports. However, this unofficial comment dissonates with the official position of the UN and the international community that strongly condemned such an aggressive act. 

Nonetheless, such narrative divisions only undermine the role of such a powerful international organisation that needs urgent relaunching. The UN’s slow reaction to the war crimes in Olenivka caused outrage in Ukraine. Finally, after naming and shaming, the UN will investigate the killing of Ukrainian POWs and make further moves to avert a possible nuclear catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. 

The UN must adapt its passive policy to the new geopolitical dynamics and act decisively at this critical moment. Otherwise, it risks staying archaic and being irrelevant to the point that it will lack any leverage over the aggressor, prompting countries to look for peace elsewhere. 

NATO/US — Not as Braindead as Putin Hoped

After Trump’s calamitous administration and with Biden taking office, the role of the US as ‘a bad cop’ did not pan out in the way the international community expected with seemingly endless issues from the retreat from Afghanistan to high commodity prices. The picture is not bright for the Biden administration. However, unlike his predecessor, Biden has a tougher stance on Putin’s aggression and fully understands its catastrophic repercussions.

However, the US is the leader in delivering substantial military and financial support to Ukraine, and its intelligence warnings about the Russian invasion were impeccable and unprecedented. The watershed NATO summit in Madrid and its updated Strategic Concept gave an impetus for the Alliance to become a reliable security guarantor. It can fulfil US democracy-saving mission worldwide and increase its military muscle on its Eastern flank. 

While the US Himars on the battlefield along with the lend-lease programme have  the potential to turn the war toward Ukraine’s victory,  NATO’s fear of closing the sky, clearing the Black Sea and sending heavy lethal weaponry casts doubt on providing fundamental security guarantees to Ukraine as it is not a member of the Alliance and will not join it anytime soon. 

But the US’s mounting sanctions and the Pentagon’s push for recognising Russia as a terrorist state will have a long-term effect of degrading Putin’s war machine and isolating it completely with the likes of Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Iran. In turn, Antony Blinken resists labelling Russia as a terrorist state as there will be no channels of diplomacy left open. 

The EU — Deep Dividing Lines

Amid the invasion, the swift and concerted response from the EU Member States caught Putin unaware. The EU has already imposed seven packages of sanctions and, slowly but surely, it is decoupling from Russian gas. With the looming winter season, war fatigue and pressure on the national governments are set to mount. 

The support for Ukraine varies across the Union depending on each Member State’s bilateral relations with Russia; most of Central Eastern Europe and the block of post-Soviet countries strongly support tougher positions towards Russia and a stronger NATO presence, with Poland especially propelling such policies. 

Southern Europe supports the sanction regime and provides substantial humanitarian assistance to Ukraine but fears a further protracted conflict. Northern Europe has undergone a monumental shift in its policy and mindset, turning now to NATO. Western and Central Europe is cautious with Macron’s warning ‘not to humiliate’ Russia. 

Germany is under heavy criticism for blocking weapon deliveries and not providing sufficient aid, but it underwent a large change (Zeitenwende) in its Ostpolitik, fearing a rough no-gas winter ahead. 

Hungary, reliant on Russian gas and a close political ally, is the main stumbling block to unity. Prime Minister Victor Orbán, in his latest pro-Russian speech in Romania, caused a wave of severe criticism and misunderstanding across the Union. Orbán’s vision of the security strategy lies in what Russia needs. 

EU unity will be tested as inner divisions stem from such staunch supporters of Putin’s policy. Finding consensus for security guarantees across the whole Union will be challenging.

The United Kingdom — A Solid Friend

For the first time after Brexit, Putin’s offensive has strengthened ties between the EU and the UK. For President Zelenskyy, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had become a true friend, an ardent critic of Putin’s ‘utter barbarism’ and a hero for Ukrainians who have named streets after him. Moreover, the strategic partnership between the two countries strengthened more long before the invasion, on 12 October 2020, when Ukraine and UK struck a historic free trade deal in light of the British post-Brexit transition.

British PM was among the first leaders to visit Kyiv twice and the region’s war-torn cities of Bucha and Irpin. He said goodbye to Zelenskyy and Ukrainians personally on Ukraine’s Independence Day, highlighting that in case Russia succeeds – no country would be safe on the perimeter. 

After the outbreak of the all-out war, the message of Boris Johnson is clear — no peace with Putin until the complete victory of Ukraine. In June, Johnson proposed to launch a new regional military and economic Alliance uniting Ukraine, Poland, the Baltics and the UK as a leader vis-a-vis Russia and those countries, namely Germany, Hungary and Serbia, which are slow to react to the Russian atrocities.

Moreover, the US welcomes such an idea to foster military capabilities on the Eastern flank and avoid confrontation with Russia. From the military point of view, the UK supplies sophisticated weapons (second after the US), provides training to the Ukrainian army and pours in substantial amounts of financial and humanitarian aid. 

Even after Johnson’s resignation, the UK’s support will remain unwavering. However, no one can replace Johnson’s political will and charisma, who always stressed that letting Russia conquer Ukraine would be catastrophic and legitimise violence. 

Overall, the UK can become pivotal in forming a new military alliance as the leader and be at the core of the anti-Putin coalition. However, it is doubtful that it will substitute the NATO potential. 

Turkey — A Delicate Balancing Act

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policy of treating Russia as both a partner and a rival is nothing new. With looming general elections and unprecedented inflation, Erdoğan is more focused on the foreign agenda and has ambitions to use his country’s international strategic position and become an effective mediator. 

All attempts at any ceasefire between the two delegations in the early stages of the war proved ineffective, as well as the meeting between Foreign Ministers — Dmytro Kuleba and Sergey Lavrov in Ankara. 

Turkey has close bilateral relations with both countries — it has been a NATO member since 1952, has control over the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles Straits and has a right to block the passage of military ships between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Seas under the 1936 Montreux Convention that came into reality in the face of the invasion.

On the one hand, Turkey awkwardly refused to join the EU’s and US’s policy of sanctions against the Kremlin. However, at the same time, it delivered the Bayraktar drones to Ukraine, which have proved their effectiveness on the battlefield and became iconic among Ukrainians, who have even devoted a song to it. 

On the other hand, Turkey continues to import oil from Russia and host Russian tourists and oligarchs, giving Russia a much-needed economic lifeline. Ankara achieved one essential policy goal — a grain deal and the long-awaited unblocking of Odesa ports that will mitigate the food crisis if Russia does not break it. 

Turkey seems to remain stuck between a rock and a hard place without completely distancing itself from Putin and attempting to pursue its regional interests. It still hopes to become a peace broker — in turn, it is doubtful to become a reliable security guarantor for Ukraine by sacrificing its strategic partnership with Russia as it will lose lucrative weapons, energy and tourist markets. 

In all these crises, Erdoğan will not lose his geopolitical calculus, keeping in mind what is best for his interests, not Ukraine’s. He will not be ready to fully support Ukrainian security guarantees if it does not align with his interpretation of Turkish realpolitik, demonstrated by a recent meeting between Putin and Erdoğan, during which the latter agreed to pay in rubles for the Russian gas partially. In turn, Erdoğan surprised everyone by his audacious appeal during the Second Crimean Platform that ‘Crimea should return to Ukraine, of which it is an inseparable part.’ 

Moreover, it would be against Ankara’s interests if Russia manages to occupy the south of Ukraine and dictate the rules in the Black Sea region, thus diminishing Turkish regional power. The return of Crimea into Ukraine’s harbour is in Ankara’s strategic interests and it seems that Erdoğan will play his role in the de-occupation of the peninsula. At some point, delicate diplomatic flirting with all sides will not be a viable option anymore.

Security Guarantees Not Only for Ukraine but for the World

Russia will always pose a security threat to neighbouring Ukraine and the EU. Old supranational institutions cannot swiftly reply to fast-changing international dynamics. Thus new formats have to be created and the old ones have to be reset respectively in the face of Russian aggression. 

The war is in its sixth month, and Ukraine marked its 31st Independence Day. Still, there are no bullet-proof security guarantees but the cautious position of all sides to see how the war unravels and who will have the upper hands at the negotiating table. 

The current security umbrella of Ukraine comprises not only a purely military component, which Ukraine lacks now but mainly an economic one in the form of sanctions, humanitarian aid and future reparations. Ukraine is working on Russia to be recognised as a terrorist state which will strangle the Russian economy more and push Putin into a corner in the international arena. 

The Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Secretary General of NATO, chair the group on international security guarantees to ensure Ukraine’s ability to realise the right to self-defence and its deterrence. 

Trading Donbas, Crimea or other Ukrainian territories for a feasible peace is out of the question as Russia will not stop there. Yermak also stresses the continued provision of modern conventional weapons and military equipment without restrictions or politically motivated obstacles and annual financial assistance to develop the defence sector. 

The rationale behind Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s idea is that security guarantees for Ukraine will become the basis of a new global security architecture as the current one is archaic and does not work. Moreover, apart from the war in Ukraine, other conflicts may soon reignite Taiwan, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, and Belarus’s involvement in Northern Ukraine, Syria and Israel. 

The format United 24 is a kind of rescue service for countries, a club of responsible states that provide specific assistance within 24 hours — military-technical, economic, political, humanitarian and also impose sanctions against the aggressor. These could be potential security guarantees that could work for Ukraine and the world. 

Which states are ready to commit to such a format and ratify the new security treaty in their parliaments? How will it correlate with NATO? As for now, the jury is still out on this. 

Ukraine is constantly told that no one can guarantee the Art. 5 style of collective defence, yet Ukraine is not abandoning its NATO path, enshrined in its Constitution. Nevertheless, non-NATO states, like Ukraine, or those NATO states who fear that the Alliance will not be capable of defending them, need a new security architecture

The EU can provide it, and additional specific guarantees can be given by the US, UK, Japan, Turkey, Canada or any other country in various domains to repel aggression. 

This could serve Ukraine as a springboard to NATO membership. Ukraine, the non-NATO current shield for the whole EU, will be at the core of this new system in the new geopolitical reality.

Published as part of our own Future of Ukraine Fellowship programme. Learn more about it here and consider contributing.

Picture: “LITPOLUKRBRIG starts a realistic trainin” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

Christine Karelska

Future of Ukraine Fellow

Christine Karelska is a Visegrad Insight Fellow as of 2022. She is also an alumna of the College of Europe in Natolin and the Democracy Study Centre in Kyiv. Her main specialization is the European Neighborhood Policy. Christine was an intern-analyst of the Public Association “Community Associations” in Odesa. Her main academic spheres of interest are security studies, international relations, gender equality and local governance. Currently, she is working as an Advisor on International Relations of the Vice Mayor of Odesa and as an Assistant to the Deputy of the Odesa City Council. Previously, she worked as a Project Manager of the Ze!Women movement aimed at gender equality and promotion of the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska’s projects in the Odesa region.

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