April 24, 2022
The war in Ukraine continues to be full of uncertainties. In a bilateral dispute, both sides may have legitimate claims and expectations, but this cannot justify the deaths of tens of thousands of human beings or the colossal damage to physical infrastructure.
There are signs that subordinate actors are working hard to find a negotiated solution to the conflict. Russia’s failure to achieve its initial military goals has pushed it to prove that it is still capable of causing considerable harm to Ukraine.
Russians and Ukrainians constitute such an intermingled society — on both sides of their shared border — that they may be considered as two halves of an apple. There must be hundreds of thousands of mixed families. There may also be Russians who believe that their country has gone beyond what is justified, such as Russian TV worker Maria Ovsyannikova, who displayed a banner that read “No War” during a live broadcast. Similarly, there may be Ukrainians who believe that Russia should not have been provoked to such an extent.
Regrettably, there are some NATO member countries that do not care much about bringing an early end to the hostilities. They seem to be more interested in weakening and pestering Russia. In other words, they are throwing Ukrainian civilians under the bus. Weakening a country that you see as an opponent may be justified, but doing it at the expense of innocent Ukrainians is a morally debatable attitude.
There is a long list of difficult subjects to solve in the Ukrainian crisis, but five of them are particularly important: The status of Crimea; the Donbas and the self-declared states of Donetsk and Luhansk; the Bucha massacre; the clashes in Mariupol; and an internationally guaranteed neutral status for Ukraine. If these are not solved, both countries will continue to bleed.
The first two questions will have to be allowed to cool down and be taken up again when conditions are riper after a ceasefire has been secured. The horrible pictures that have come from Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, showed about 500 corpses, some with their hands bound behind their back. Mediation efforts have not been entirely ended, but such massacres have made the peace efforts more difficult. In Mariupol, Russia is trying to open up a corridor between this city and Crimea.
The most important issue for Russia is to prevent Ukraine from becoming a member of NATO.
Because of Moscow’s veto at the UN Security Council, the only resolution to be passed on the Russian invasion was tabled at the UN General Assembly, which condemned it with 141 votes in favor, five against and 35 abstentions. Russia has difficulties in taking a step back, but it has to draw conclusions from this overwhelming vote.
The most important issue for Russia is to prevent Ukraine from becoming a member of NATO. Moscow has always been uneasy at the thought of bordering a country that has a strong army that may cause it trouble with the help of NATO. In turn, Ukraine does not want to become a country that Russia can reprimand at will. This would be inconsistent with the status of a sovereign country. The negotiators are trying to find a magic formula that will meet the expectations of both sides.
A tacit agreement seems to have been reached that Ukraine’s NATO membership is off the table for the foreseeable future. A more realistic status that is now being considered is to make it a country with an internationally guaranteed neutral status.
Ukraine has proposed that the guarantor countries be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Turkey and Germany. Belarus has also been mentioned. Ukraine has also proposed a corollary of the procedure contained in Article 5 of the NATO Charter. According to this procedure, if a NATO country is attacked, all member countries will consider it an attack directed against their own country. Such a proposal is not rational because Russia’s presence among the guarantors might cause a problem.
Ankara is now conducting consultations on an alternative framework for the team of guarantor countries, which might consist of the P5 (minus Russia), along with Turkey and Germany. This framework proposes that the guarantor countries would act in unanimity to ward off any violations of Ukraine’s neutrality.
Many countries are eager to contribute to the solution of this crisis, but without burning their fingers. They are hesitant to become a guarantor because they do not want to face Russian hostility in case the two countries clash again.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar
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