My country Ukraine has a proposal for the West – and it could make the whole world safer | Andriy Yermak

In November 1994, Boris Yeltsin wrote to his counterpart, Bill Clinton. The Russian president urged the United States and the West to support a “historic Russian-Ukrainian treaty of friendship, cooperation and partnership.”

At the time, Yeltsin had established a close working relationship with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. The Russian leader expressed his desire to “seal a truly landmark document” covering “all the concerns of Ukrainewhich is fraternal to us”.

Clinton also had reason to seek an agreement with Kuchma. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, nuclear weapons were scattered throughout all post-Soviet states, with a significant amount in Ukraine. The elimination of this threat had become a high priority for Washington.

A month after Yeltsin wrote to Clinton, the leaders met in Budapest, Hungary. In exchange for Ukraine giving up the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, the United States, Russia and Britain pledged to “respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine” and to “refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country.

Tragically for Ukraine, the Budapest Memorandum has not stood the test of time.

First, Kyiv had been foiled by clever lawyers, who had insisted that the security promises made to Ukraine be downgraded from “guarantees” to “assurances”. The slightest meaning of this formulation has haunted us ever since.

Second, the West had too much faith in Yeltsin’s ability to lead Russia down the path of liberal democracy. They forgot the powerful former Soviet secret service chiefs, exasperated by the collapse of their old empire, who lurked in the shadows but were close to the president.

Russia first violated the Budapest Memorandum in 2003 when it threatened to seize the Ukrainian island of Tuzla in the Sea of ​​Azov by force. Then there was systematic gas blackmail. And in 2014, Russian troops seized Crimea and entered eastern Ukraine. This bloody aggression then turned into a full-scale military invasion earlier this year.

Russia knows something that many Westerners have forgotten. A country wishing to preserve its sovereignty can only maintain stability if it retains the potential threat of force.

Many believe that the rules-based international system of the West – now threatened by Russia – was born at the end of the First World War, with the policy of “self-determination”. At that time, the American President, Woodrow Wilson, announced that “national aspirations must be respected” and that “peoples can henceforth be dominated and governed only by their own consent”, adding: “Self-determination is not a mere expression; it is an imperative principle of action.

If the West truly believes in such principles, then surely it must support the democratically elected government of Ukraine with full security guarantees that replace the failure of the Budapest Memorandum.

We are focused on fighting and winning, but we have already started getting guarantees from our allies. We created a high-level task force co-chaired by myself and former NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Members include some of our closest friends, including William Hague, the former British Foreign Secretary, Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister, and Carl Bildt, the former Swedish Prime Minister.

While Ukraine’s long-term goal remains NATO membership, we recognize that Russia’s current belligerence makes this difficult. In the meantime, however, we need legally binding guarantees from our allies for the supply of arms, the exchange of intelligence, the support of our defense and the protection of our economy.

We plan to present our recommendations to the global community in the near future. Some influential voices, even within the governments of our allies, still believe that it is impossible to stand up to Russia. Their position can be compared to that of a child facing a difficult challenge. Rather than closing their eyes, plugging their ears and shouting for the problem to go away, these people need to open their eyes and see Russia for what it is.

We know enough to be sure that there is no such peace agreement under which Russia would sign and keep its word. Given its actions in Syria and its behavior after the capture of Crimea, it should be obvious that Moscow is using the peace talks as a distraction and a trap, not a solution. Russia violated the Minsk and Normandy agreements immediately after it was signed and for eight years did not fully fulfill any of its commitments. To date, Russia has violated all fundamental norms and principles of international law. There is no shape or form that Ukraine can take as an independent nation that Russia can ever live with. Ukrainians know this and that is why they continue to resist the aggressor. They continue their fight for freedom.

If Ukraine falls, which country will be next? Faced with an aggressor, it is futile to hope for peace by appeals for justice: you will obtain neither.

After leaving the White House, Bill Clinton wrote in his memoirs that the ill-fated security conference in Budapest was “embarrassing, a rare moment when people on both sides dropped the ball”. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case. The Russian leaders did not let go of the ball. He saw a new opportunity – and took full advantage of the memorandum’s weakness for his own imperial ambitions.

Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past. The new safeguards for Ukraine must be strong and effective. Ukraine’s security will make the world safer.

  • Andriy Yermak is the head of the Ukrainian presidential office

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