A preeminent strategic challenge that Kyiv faces during the next years in terms of nation-building and economic development will be how to provide for the state’s security against the myriad of Russian hybrid war measures against Ukraine–above all against another armed intervention by Moscow. The following six alternatives for the evolution of Ukrainian international embeddedness may or may not materialize in the foreseeable future. The probability of a realization of the first set-up, the grey-zone-scenario, in the foreseeable future is far higher than that of the other subsequently outlined scenarios. The latter five trajectories involve the conclusion of a fundamental new treaty in Eastern Europe. While they are so far all more or less unlikely, they may become more probable in case of major novel developments within the domestic affairs or/and international relations of the various states and organizations involved in the so-called “Ukraine Crisis.”
The six scenarios are:
1. Ukraine remains in the current geopolitical grey zone (together with Georgia and Moldova) while receiving piecemeal support from the West
A simple extrapolation of the current situation of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, without any substantive change of their international status, is the most likely scenario to occur during the coming years. One can imagine several different permutations of this course of events, yet they would all leave these three countries’ international embeddedness, or lack thereof, fundamentally similar to the current situation. Many would argue that debating sub-options and baby steps within this avenue of events is the exclusively realistic discussion, and that only considering ways of gradually improving this scenario makes political sense. Yet, the obvious flaw of this Ukrainian, Georgian, and Moldovan future is that it may merely reproduce the constellation that got Europe into the security disaster of 2014. Piecemeal help for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia via development aid, various cooperation schemes, and some weapons delivery can be seen as a mere distraction from solving the real issue of principally changing the three countries’ international position.
2. Within a grand Russian-Western bargain, Ukraine will be permanently excluded from the European Union and NATO, in exchange for a supposedly stable peace
The possible second development of a large deal between Russia and West is the most popular among many politicians, diplomats, and other observers around the world and especially in Europe–particularly in Russia itself. In principal, Ukraine would be the foremost country interested in a stable, comprehensive, and just multilateral peace with Russia. Chances are, however, that such a bargain would–without a fundamental change in Russia’s current political regime or, at least, foreign political priorities–neither appreciate Ukrainian, Moldovan, and Georgian political sovereignty nor provide a sustainable solution to the ongoing (though partly frozen) conflicts there. Most likely, Moscow would demand concessions from the West, such as Ukraine’s and Georgia’s permanent exclusion from the European Union and NATO.
3. Following up on its written promise at the 2008 Bucharest summit, NATO starts implementing a Membership Action Plan with, and eventually admits, Ukraine, as well as Georgia
While a grand bargain between Russia and West is the preferred solution for the conflict around Ukraine among many Western and Russian observers, an accession of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO is, by far, the most popular solution to these countries’ security challenges, in Kyiv and Tbilisi (Moldova has declared itself bloc-free in 1994). However, as each NATO member country has the right to a veto, the chances of a unanimous positive vote would be slim. Oddly, Ukraine and Georgia may only become NATO members when they will not need it that much any more, i.e. when they have somehow resolved their territorial conflicts with Russia.
4. Accession to the European Union as an instrument not only for modernization, but also for enhancing the security of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova
In contrast to the political hindrances preventing a further Eastern enlargement of NATO as long as the current Western confrontation with Russia remains, a future entry into the European Union of its three associated Eastern Partnership countries is a less politicized issue. The European Union is not primarily a defense coalition, which makes its enlargement less risky for the Union’s member states and more easily justifiable vis-à-vis Russia. Once the potential new entrants have thoroughly “Europeanized” their national legislation and public administration, an accession of Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine to the European Union would find many supporters in both East-Central and Western Europe. Contrary to widespread opinion, these three countries’ entry into the Union is neither unlikely to happen nor would it be trivial for these states’ security situation. The Association Agreements that these three post-Soviet republics concluded in 2014 are exceptionally large and comprehensive treaties that will gradually deepen their ties with the European Union during the coming years, and de facto prepare them for subsequent membership negotiations.
5. Gaining the Major non-NATO Ally status from or concluding a security agreement with the United States, with possible reference to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum
In early 1994, Kyiv decided to fully abandon all of its nuclear weapons and related facilities as well as materials, and to join the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Already suspecting a Russian irredentist threat back then, the Ukrainian government insisted on linking its NPT accession to the provision of security assurances by the NPT’s three depositary states. Such promises to respect and support Ukrainian political sovereignty and territorial integrity were duly made by the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia at the December 1994 CSCE Summit at Budapest. The document assuring Ukraine of its borders and independence in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons arsenal became known as the Budapest Memorandum.
The familiar standard security format that the US is offering to selected partner-countries around the world is the Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) scheme which implies a number of special security cooperation opportunities as well as the possibility of a mutual defense pact, between Washington and such an ally. In December 2014, provision of the MNNA status to Ukraine was seriously considered in the US Congress, yet withdrawn at eleventh hour. In March 2017, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a resolution explicitly asking Washington to declare Ukraine a Major Non-NATO Ally. In the future, there may even be a chance for a bi- or trilateral security partnership agreement between Ukraine, the United States and Great Britain based on those promises that Washington and London made to Kyiv, in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
6. Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova and a number of post-communist NATO member states enter an East European security coalition that revives the inter-war Intermarium idea
Ukraine’s immediate western neighbor –Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania–as well as other eastern member countries of NATO have (or should have) a common interest in the stability and security of Eastern Europe, since they would all be affected by a possible collapse of the Ukrainian state as a result of further Russian advances. Some of these nations have perceptions of a direct threat emerging from Russia’s current leadership that is similar to Ukrainian, Moldovan, and Georgian fears of Moscow. Notwithstanding this commonality of interests and perceptions, there have, so far, not been any substantive actions on the side of Poland or Romania, as Eastern Europe’s largest countries neighboring Ukraine, to further an anti-Kremlin coalition that would transcend NATO. While the Intermarium (land between the seas) alliance, as this project is often called, has been occasionally mentioned by Polish politicians, including Poland’s current President Andrzej Duda, during the last 25 years, Warsaw has not taken any concrete steps to implement the coalition yet.
None of these six scenarios is reassuring. The first option, preservation of the current grey zone, is by far the most likely. It remains unclear, however, whether mere cooperation, adaptation and association, within this scenario, can replace, or compensate for, proper institutional integration into a defense coalition. While material, technical and financial help for Ukraine is forthcoming, such piecemeal support could remain eventually insufficient to fundamentally improve the security of Ukraine. Even the concurrent and resolute application of a large and varied battery of mutually re-enforcing legal, military, economic, technical and other instruments strengthening Ukraine’s international embeddedness will, however, not make a new treaty on East European security unnecessary.
Dr. Andreas Umland is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, and General Editor of the book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” published by ibidem Press at Stuttgart, and distributed outside Europe by Columbia University Press.