Ukraine and NATO: the problem of relevance. Rostislav Ischenko

In connection with the statement of Vladimir Putin that the admission of Ukraine to NATO would be a crossing of the red line, which Russia cannot allow, numerous speculations appeared in the Russian press about how Ukraine, which no one is going to admit there, could get into NATO. They say, since Putin said this, then there is a danger

Ukraine and NATO: the problem of relevance. Rostislav Ischenko

It should be noted, however, that the Russian president specifically answered a question from a journalist. If a journalist inquired about the possibility of Moldova’s admission to NATO, I think that the answer would be identical.

By the way, Moldova has much more opportunities to become a member of NATO and the EU. To do this, it is enough for the nationalist-unionists (who advocate unification with Romania) to win the internal political competition against the nationalists-Moldovans (who want to preserve the independent Moldovan state). The absorption of Moldova by Romania, who, not without reason, consider the Moldovans part of the Romanian people (half of Moldova with the ancient capital Iasi has been part of Romania since the founding of the latter), would mark the spread of NATO and the EU to the territory between the Danube and the Dniester.

Moreover, the argument given by Putin in the form of the flight time of missiles hypothetically deployed in Ukraine to Moscow does not seem as significant as it seems at first glance. First, from Estonia, which has long been a member of NATO, it is not much farther to fly to Moscow than from Shostka (the closest point in Ukraine to Moscow), and St. Petersburg is generally at hand (missiles for two minutes). Secondly, it was said that the “red line” is the admission of Ukraine to NATO, and not an attempt to deploy any troops or strike weapons on its territory.

Missiles, tank divisions, air wings do not appear anywhere in seconds. For them, it is necessary to prepare the basing sites, transfer personnel and equipment, and then ensure the combat readiness of the latter. For Americans, these things take weeks or even months. Moreover, missile bases have to be built from scratch and it is practically impossible to hide such construction (as well as its purpose). At one time, despite the maximum secrecy of the operation, the Americans discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba before the latter were put on alert.

Finally, the Americans can deploy troops in Ukraine without accepting it into NATO. Kiev has repeatedly declared its readiness to accept everything, including the very American missile defense systems (mentioned by Putin and deployed in Poland), which can be used to launch long-range cruise missiles. Ukraine asked the United States and the status of the closest US ally outside NATO (similar to that which Israel has).

As you can see, the United States has enough opportunities to use Ukrainian territory as an anti-Russian foothold, not accepting Ukraine into NATO and, thus, not formally crossing the red line drawn by Putin. Can we assume that the Russian president was mistaken in formulating his position? Unlikely. It was precisely about the formal admission to the bloc, and not about the deployment of weapons or military contingents on the territory of Ukraine. Putin is an experienced politician and always very clearly formulates what he wants to convey to the addressee of his statements (and they were clearly intended not for the Ukrainian or Russian audience). If he believes that he could be misunderstood, he can return to the topic more than once and repeatedly formulate the position so that it is understood unambiguously.

So why exactly NATO, where the road to Ukraine is blocked by at least France, Germany and Hungary (and Italy and Greece are not delighted with the prospect of having such an “ally”)? And in general, is it worth being afraid of Ukraine’s admission to the alliance, if both the Washington leaders and the leaders of France and Germany have repeatedly, openly said that no one will risk Paris and Berlin for the Baltics? By the way, there is no certainty that America will go to war with Russia, even if the danger threatens Paris and Berlin. The United States is not at all averse to unleashing a European war with the participation of Russia, while remaining on the sidelines. The White House needs to tie Russia’s hands so that it cannot support China when the United States begins to pressure Beijing.

We must admit the obvious, NATO allies are no longer just not ready to defend each other for a long time, many are ready to fight with their neighbors. If earlier there was one long-term military crisis in NATO – the Turkish-Greek crisis, now Turkey and the United States have repeatedly found themselves on the brink of conflict in Syria, Turkey and France in Libya, Turkey and Italy in the Eastern Mediterranean. Since the contradictions that caused the previous crises have not been eliminated, we can expect new ones, with an expanding circle of participants.

But one cannot but see another moment. Macron easily changes positions as a result of a combination of hidden pressure and generous promises. Merkel leaves and for some time Germany will be weakened in the international arena, and the position of the new cabinet on key international issues is unknown. Italy and Hungary without France and Germany will not be able to resist for a long time. Washington, after the talks in Geneva, can theoretically return to the topic of granting Ukraine and Georgia the MAP (NATO Membership Action Plan).

The MAP is not membership and may never result in membership (that is, opponents of Ukraine’s admission seem to have no reason to fight seriously), but it is perceived in Kiev and Tbilisi as a guarantee of admission to NATO. Moreover, Saakashvili and Ukrainian politicians openly say that in their opinion, if Ukraine and Georgia were granted the MAP in 2008, then Russia would not dare to conduct an operation to force Georgia to peace in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the same year, and in 2014 to implement the reunification of Crimea.

This confidence, if the MAP is received, will push Kiev and Tbilisi to a more provocative policy towards Russia. They will no longer be afraid of Russian military power, believing that NATO will definitely protect them. The risk of military provocations, fraught with escalation into a European war, will sharply increase.

In addition, by activating the topic of Ukraine’s accession to NATO, the United States may try to influence the internal political processes in Russia, where elections to the Duma are to be held on September 19, after which the United States will try to provoke protests. Raising the theme of Ukraine’s accession to NATO and Russia’s inability to interfere with this process can be used to undermine the internal political positions of the Russian authorities, weaken the base of its support.

Finally, since the White House is well aware that it will be extremely difficult to squeeze out any concessions from Putin at the upcoming meeting, the topic of Ukraine’s hypothetical admission to NATO can be used by Biden to exert pressure during negotiations, as well as for information sabotage against Russia in their ending.

All these dangers are just leveled by one Putin’s statement about the “red line”. After all, no one knows what exactly the Kremlin will consider the beginning of the process of Ukraine’s admission to NATO and how exactly they will react. Moscow literally just this spring, in response to military blackmail, showed that it is not afraid of war and forced the United States to retreat. What if the Kremlin starts a violent demonstration again? Or it will immediately strike a preemptive blow to Ukraine, reminding that “we warned you”.

Raise rates? The risk is great. It turns out that it is better to bypass the problematic Ukrainian topic. If the United States does not find counterplay, and it will be difficult for them to do so, then with his statement Putin will significantly expand the space for maneuver for Russia in all of Eastern Europe. It is clear that the “red line” does not end, resting on the northern border of Ukraine, but continues further, along the Belarusian-Polish border, and further, along the Polish-Lithuanian border, tends to Kaliningrad.

In fact, we are not talking about blocking the movement of Ukraine to the West (no one is waiting for it there anyway), but about the renewal of Russia’s application for a sphere of influence within the entire post-Soviet space, which the West recognized throughout the 90s, but stopped recognizing and began to actively violate to zero.

Before the meeting, this announcement severely limits Biden’s maneuvering options during the meeting. The “red line” has been marked, the US president can only either silently reconcile, or in a harsh manner deny Moscow the right to determine the zone of his vital interests. Both one option and the other lead to serious consequences. In the first case, the United States de facto recognizes Russia as a free hand in Eastern Europe, without any compensation from Moscow. In the second, Washington is drawn into a confrontation with unpredictable consequences, much earlier than it would like to do it, moreover, without controlling (unlike Moscow) the course of events.

Rostislav Ischenko, Ukraina.ru

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