By Kuni Isaac
Since the invasion of Ukraine under the command of its president V.Putin, Russia presented the US with a list of demands, some of which were nonstarters for the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Putin demanded that NATO stop its eastward expansion and deny membership to Ukraine, and that NATO roll back troop deployment in countries that had joined after 1997, which would turn back the clock decades on Europe’s security and geopolitical alignment.
These stipulations are “a Russian attempt not only to secure interest in Ukraine but essentially relitigate the security architecture in Europe,” said Michael Kofman, research director in the Russia studies program at CNA, a research and analysis organization in Arlington, Virginia.
US and NATO rejected these demands as it is obvious that Ukraine will not be joining NATO anytime soon.
Arguments had been on ground at the end of the Cold War that NATO never should have moved close to Russia’s borders in the first place, although NATO’s open-door policy says sovereign countries can choose their own security alliances. Giving in to Putin’s demands would hand the Kremlin veto power over NATO’s decision-making, and through it, the continent’s security.
When the Soviet Union broke up in the early ’90s, Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, was known to have the third largest atomic arsenal in the world which the United States and Russia worked with Ukraine to denuclearize the country, after a few diplomatic meet ups, Kyiv gave its hundreds of nuclear warheads back to Russia in exchange for security assertions that protected it from a potential Russian attack.
Those assertions were put to the test in 2014, when Russia went against the exchange and invaded Ukraine. These tactics surprised the West, including those within the Obama administration. It also permitted Russia to deny its direct involvement. In 2014, in the Donbas region, military units of “little green men” soldiers in uniform but without official insignia moved in with equipment. Moscow has fueled unrest since, and has continued to destabilize and undermine Ukraine through cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure and disinformation campaigns.
It is possible that Moscow will take aggressive steps in all sorts of ways that don’t involve moving Russian troops across the border. It could deteriorate its alternative war, and launch sweeping disinformation campaigns and hacking operations. (It will also probably do these things if it does move troops into Ukraine.)
And that might prompt Moscow to see more force as the solution, here are plenty of possible scenarios for a Russian invasion, including sending more troops into the breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, seizing strategic regions and blockading Ukraine’s access to waterways, and even a full-on war, with Moscow marching on Kyiv in an attempt to retake the entire country. Any of it could be devastating, though the more expansive the operation, the more catastrophic.
Russia’s assault grew out of mass protests in Ukraine knocking down the country’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych (partially over his abandonment of a trade agreement with the European Union). US diplomats visited the demonstrations, in symbolic gestures that further agitated Putin.
President Barack Obama, during the 2014 invasion was hesitant and slow to intensify tensions with Russia at the due time, to marshal a diplomatic response in Europe, to provide Ukrainians with offensive weapons.
“A lot of us were really appalled that not more was done for the violation of that [post-Soviet] agreement,”
said Ian Kelly, a career diplomat who served as ambassador to Georgia from 2015 to 2018.
“It just basically showed that if you have nuclear weapons” — as Russia does — “you’re inoculated against strong measures by the international community.”
But the very premise of a post-Soviet Europe is also helping to fuel today’s conflict. Putin has been fixated on reclaiming some semblance of empire, lost with the fall of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is central to this vision. Putin has said Ukrainians and Russians “were one people — a single whole,” or at least would be if not for the meddling from outside forces (as in, the West) that has created a “wall” between the two.
Ukraine isn’t joining NATO in the near future, and President Joe Biden has said as much. The core of the NATO treaty is Article 5, a commitment that an attack on any NATO country is treated as an attack on the entire alliance — meaning any Russian military engagement of a hypothetical NATO-member Ukraine would theoretically bring Moscow into conflict with the US, the UK, France, and the 27 other NATO members.
But the country is the fourth largest recipient of military funding from the US, and the intelligence cooperation between the two countries has deepened in response to threats from Russia.
“Putin and the Kremlin understand that Ukraine will not be a part of NATO,” Ruslan Bortnik, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics, said.
“But Ukraine became an informal member of NATO without a formal decision.”
Demonstrators with Ukrainian national flags and posters march in the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on February 5. Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city, just 25 miles from some of the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed at the border.
The prospect of Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO has antagonized Putin at least since President George W. Bush expressed support for the idea in 2008. “That was a real mistake,” said Steven Pifer, who from 1998 to 2000 was ambassador to Ukraine under President Bill Clinton. “It drove the Russians nuts. It created anticipations in Ukraine and Georgia, which were never met. And so that just made that whole issue of enlargement a complicated one.”
Recently at the joint press conference, Putin blamed NATO and the West for maddening Russia, and said Ukraine must be made to implement elements of the Minsk Protocol the 2014 cease-fire agreement to end fighting between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Putin criticized Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for failing to implement the protocol, and referenced an obscene song lyric to demonstrate what he wanted.
“Whether you like it or don’t like it, bear with it, my beauty,” Putin said.
Russia experts noted that Putin appeared to be quoting from “Sleeping Beauty in a Coffin” by the Soviet-era punk rock group Red Mold.
“Sleeping beauty in a coffin, I crept up and fucked her. Like it, or dislike it, sleep my beauty,”
the English translation of the Russian lyrics reads.
The lyrics directly imply rape and necrophilia, suggesting Putin wants Ukraine to acquiesce to his demands without putting up a fight.
Neither the Kremlin nor the state-run Tass news agency published the line as it was said by Putin in their transcripts of the speech.
A Kremlin spokesperson denied that Putin’s words were drawn from the song, “but rather from folklore.”
The 2014 protocol was a complicated, long-negotiated proposal to end fighting in the Donbas region and give it unique status, including independent elections.
“It is clear to everyone that the current authorities in Kyiv have set a course for dismantling the Minsk accords,” Putin said Monday. “There are no shifts on such fundamental issues as constitutional reform, amnesty, local elections, and the legal aspects of a special status for Donbas.”
No country can join the alliance without the unanimous buy-in of all 30 member countries, and many have opposed Ukraine’s membership, in part because it doesn’t meet the conditions on democracy and rule of law.
All of this has put Ukraine in an impossible position: an applicant for an alliance that wasn’t going to accept it, while irritating a potential opponent next door, without having any degree of NATO protection.
Stay with us as we bring updates …