I thoroughly applaud the Defence Secretary for his visit to Moscow to reinforce British diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. What he said made absolute sense from the perspective of playing to the American and British public. However, from a practical viewpoint, the economic approach will only hold good if China supports the USA…
The key to conflict prevention remains in President Putin’s December demands. Ukraine became a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme in 1994 after they had already deployed on UN peacekeeping operations in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. They went on to participate in NATO military operations in Bosnia and Kosovo before 9/11. When three Ukrainian officers were part of my NATO headquarters in Baghdad, there was a very strong prospect of full membership, but this receded under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych.
The strategic situation changed completely with the Euromaiden uprising in 2014, which preceded the Russian annexation of Crimea and the incursion into Ukraine’s eastern areas. For a time, NATO concentrated on bolstering military support to the Baltic States, while politically supporting Ukraine’s stated desire to become a full member of NATO. It has now come to a head because in June last year NATO announced that Ukraine would become a member despite the Donbas War which up to that point, had been a statutory block to membership.
While NATO countries have reduced their military forces during the past 11 years and withdrawn from conflict zones in Libya, Syria and Afghanistan; the Russian military has grown in power and influence. Russian strategists will now be calculating the two most likely outcomes: Ukraine becoming a member of NATO and thus forming a potential pincer movement with the Baltic states against Moscow; or a limited incursion to stop Ukraine’s progress towards NATO membership with inevitable economic consequences.
The announcement by the USA and a dozen other countries that they are evacuating their diplomats from Ukraine reminds me of the humiliating retreats from Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this does not bode well either for the West’s moral authority, or for the likelihood of a successful outcome. If we are serious about assisting the Kiev government, we need to share their risks.