Ukraine’s NATO-style security guarantee proposal greeted with skepticism

Western officials are balking at Ukraine’s proposal for a NATO-style mutual defense commitment that could embroil their military forces in a war with Russia, although they have expressed some receptivity to the idea of ​​security guarantees. international security as part of an agreement to end hostilities.

At the peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, Ukrainian negotiators handed Russia a detailed proposal for a neutral status for Ukraine with its security guaranteed by the US, UK, France, Turkey, Germany, Canada, Poland and Israel. Ukraine’s proposal would ask countries to respond to a breach of its sovereignty in the same way North Atlantic Treaty Organization members would act under Article 5, the alliance’s mutual defense pledge .

“This is what we call Ukraine NATO,” Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia, the majority leader in the country’s parliament, said in an interview in Istanbul. “So we get neutrality, but our idea is to get fortified neutrality status.”

President Biden has yet to comment on the proposal, but White House communications director Kate Bedingfield declined to say on Wednesday whether the United States would be willing to serve as Ukraine’s security guarantor.

“We are in constant discussion with the Ukrainians about ways to help ensure their sovereignty and security,” she said. “But there’s nothing specific about security safeguards that I can talk about at this time.”

A number of Western leaders have expressed support for some form of security guarantees for Ukraine, but none have specified what they would look like. Their reluctance to embrace a key element of Ukraine’s plan – the notion of a NATO collective defense mechanism – shows how far apart all sides remain from finding a negotiated end to the war.

US lawmakers also appeared skeptical of the proposal. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second Senate Democrat and co-chairman of the Ukrainian caucus, said he thought the proposal was “a bit premature,” adding that he did not trust Russia.

Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said such a proposal might be possible, but it would still be a long way off. “You know, we’ve done it before,” Risch said, referring to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, when Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees. ” How it works ?

Ukraine-Russia peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday.


Photo:

Sha Dati/Zuma Press

British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab also expressed skepticism about a proposal to provide a security guarantee to a non-NATO member. “We will consider everything [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky says he has to be very careful,” Mr Raab told BBC radio on Wednesday. “But we’re not going to, I think, unilaterally replicate NATO commitments that apply to NATO members.”

Other countries named as possible guarantors of Ukraine’s security expressed interest in the idea, but avoided committing to the proposal.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Mr Zelensky that Berlin was “broadly willing” to act as the guarantor of Ukraine’s security under a peace deal, a government spokesman said on Wednesday. German. However, it is too early to discuss such commitments, said government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

A senior German government official later clarified that the discussion was still in its infancy and included a proposal for a group of countries, including Russia, to guarantee Ukraine’s security in the part of a peace agreement under which Kyiv would declare independence from any military alliance, including NATO.

The German official said the Ukrainian proposal was not fleshed out yet and could only work if Russia was part of it.

France is open to supporting a form of neutrality for Ukraine with its security guaranteed by several countries, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The person warned, however, that France was unwilling to sign up to a security guarantee that included a mechanism similar to NATO’s Article 5. Everything will also depend on the details of Ukraine’s neutrality, including the status of its national army, the person added.

Senator Dick Durbin greets a Ukrainian member of parliament before a meeting on Wednesday in Washington, DC


Photo:

Eric Lee/Bloomberg News

Russia would likely not agree to any arrangement obliging France and other permanent members of the UN Security Council to guarantee Ukraine’s security, the person said.

Moscow’s backing would be needed for any deal to end the war, and it’s unclear whether the Kremlin would accept kyiv’s proposal. “Nobody said the parties had made progress,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the talks in Istanbul, declining to discuss specific proposals. “We can’t report anything particularly promising.”

The Ukrainian government, however, seems set on a proposal that would provide strong security guarantees from Western countries.

“The activation mechanism is even stronger than NATO. In NATO, if something happens, you have to consult first,” said Mr. Arakhamia, the Ukrainian negotiator. “There is no mention of how long it might take. Given the speed at which things are progressing, we put 72 hours max. So within 72 hours, all the guarantors must understand what is happening, if it is an aggression or a special operation or a war, they must provide military assistance or armies.

Crimea and Donbass – two Ukrainian regions occupied by Russia – would not be part of the safeguards, Arakhamia said. Those territories would be excluded until their status was settled in separate negotiations, he said.

Ukrainian officials on Tuesday proposed that the status of Donbass be negotiated by the Ukrainian and Russian presidents, while Crimea would be subject to a 15-year period of negotiations on a separate track.

Russian presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky, left, and Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia in Istanbul earlier this week.


Photo:

Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Service/Associated Press

Ukraine first offered NATO member Turkey as its security guarantor on March 17. Turkey has good relations with Ukraine and has played a mediating role in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, holding two rounds of peace talks.

The Turkish government neither approved nor opposed the proposal, but offered broad support for the peace negotiations.

Turkey has also sold armed drones to kyiv, which were instrumental in Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion of Moscow, hitting invading Russian convoys and mobile air defenses.

While Turkey has strongly condemned the Russian invasion, it has also chosen not to impose sanctions on Russia, opting to preserve its relationship with Moscow in order to act as a mediator.

Mr Arakhamia said Israel, a non-NATO member, could also be a party to the proposed security guarantees.

“Potentially Israel because they also have a strong army. It’s good for us to have expertise for this defensive country. They also have a neutral status. They can mobilize their reserve army in a day I think,” he said.

Israel seems unlikely, at least for now, to support the proposal.

“At this stage, Israel is not in a position to provide a security guarantee to Ukraine,” a senior Israeli official said. “We will be willing to help reach an agreement through confidence-building measures and other efforts.”

Write to Jared Malsin at jared.malsin@wsj.com, Lindsay Wise at lindsay.wise@wsj.com and Bojan Pancevski at bojan.pancevski@wsj.com

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