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This article that was written a few weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine suggests that Emmanuel Macron did not rule out the idea of Ukraine's neutrality following Finland as a model:

During the tense negotiations over the Ukraine crisis, the idea of “Finlandizing” Ukraine has been suggested as a solution. This idea refers to the way a small or weak country can retain its sovereignty by making some policy decisions – generally defence and foreign – subject to considerable influence by a more powerful neighbour.

The idea surfaced when the French president, Emmanuel Macron, was reportedly asked by a reporter in Moscow recently whether Finlandization would work for Ukraine. He replied: “Yes, it is one of the options on the table.” He has since denied the report.

I have managed to find the following somewhat relevant events related to Ukraine's status in relation to NATO and Russia:

This 2015 lecture suggests that some sort of neutrality of Ukraine could have been / can be negotiated between the Ukraine, Russia and the EU, proposing the following (it is a slide from the lecture):

  • Explicitly abandon NATO Expansion into Ukraine
  • Fashion an Economic Rescue Plan for Ukraine with Russia, the IMF and the EU
  • Guarantee Minority Rights, especially language rights, in Ukraine

Were there any negotiations or high-level discussions around such a proposal for Ukraine?

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Ukraine not only considered to be neutral. Ukraine is still officially neutral and not a member of NATO. This is exactly why Ukraine was invaded by Russia in 2014-15, with the war continued up to the present. And this is why it is being invaded since February 2022 on a much larger scale.

Several neutral (not NATO member) countries have been similarly invaded by Russia: Moldova and Georgia, for example. Syria has been carpet bombed too. Russian war crimes in Syria and Chechnya bear some similarity to those in Ukraine now.

By contrast, none of the former USSR republics or Warsaw Pact members that are members of NATO have been invaded or carpet bombed. Yet.

The implications of being a neutral country within flying distance from Russia has not escaped even the least attentive reader, I hope.

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  • I think many if not most would consider "neutral" and "not part of an alliance" to not be exactly the same thing. Apr 18 at 15:02
  • @Acccumulation In the context of the question, which talks about being neutral and Finlandization as related concepts, I follow the same reasoning. Note that Finland is not part of the NATO alliance too, yet it is more aligned with the democratic Western countries. The memories of the Winter War are still alive and well in Finland. So I am really trying to answer the OP, not trying to generalize too much. :) Apr 18 at 15:12
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Sort of - directly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukraine's declaration of independence in August 1991, the Verkhovna Rada approved the law "On the defence of Ukraine" in December, which stated:

Ukraine's military doctrine is determined by the principle of defense sufficiency in the construction of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and is based on the fact that Ukraine:
[...]
strives for neutrality and adherence to non-nuclear principles: not to accept, produce or acquire nuclear weapons;

However, the law also made allowance for the country to take "appropriate measures in the international arena to prevent aggression", and for the President to declare "a state of war in case of necessity to implement international agreements on joint defence against aggression".

Between 1996 and 2010, Ukraine travelled down the path towards integration with NATO; in 1997 the Charter on Special Cooperation between Ukraine and NATO was signed by President Kuchma, and in March 2004 a memorandum of understanding was agreed which would open up the possibility of NATO forces being stationed in Ukraine. At the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, the parties released a joint declaration that:

NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. [...] MAP [Membership Action Plan] is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership. Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP.

However, in 2010, after the election of President Yanukovych, a new law "On the principles of domestic and foreign policy" was signed, article 11 of which defines Ukraine as a "European non-aligned state", and defines the "main principles of foreign policy" as including

Ukraine's adherence to a policy of non-alignment, which means Ukraine's non-participation in military-political alliances, priority participation in improving and developing the European collective security system, continuing constructive partnership with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other military-political blocs on all issues of mutual interest;

This law was amended after President Yanukovych's removal from power in the Maidan revolution in 2014 to remove the references to non-alignment.

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After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine held about one third of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the third largest in the world at the time, as well as significant means of its design and production. 130 UR-100N intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) with six warheads each, 46 RT-23 Molodets ICBMs with ten warheads apiece, as well as 33 heavy bombers, totaling approximately 1,700 warheads remained on Ukrainian territory.

On 5 December 1994, Ukraine signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, undertaking to hand over its entire nuclear arsenal to Russia, in exchange for the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, in which the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and The United States of America reaffirmed

  1. to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine

  2. refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations

So yes, the Ukraine did try to be neutral. But nothing illustrates the shortcomings of that strategy as starkly as Russia using the threat of nuclear deterrent Ukraine so graciously returned to get away with breaking the very guarantees that enabled that return.

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