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All Russia seemingly want is for Ukraine to remain neutral and not join NATO or EU.

Why does Ukraine not simply agree to these demands?

If the only (realistic) options available to Ukraine are:

  1. accept the demands and not be part of NATO/EU but otherwise continue to exist as a relatively prosperous nation with decent standards of living

  2. refuse the demands, suffer from war, lose thousands of lives, and possibly be annexed by Russia or at least be ruled under Russian influence/control.

then it seems obvious that option 1 is preferable .... especially because option 2 STILL doesn't lead to them joining NATO/EU. So why don't they?

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    Because that's not all that Russia wants. Russia has also demanded that Ukraine recognise the independence of the Donbas and Luhansk regions, as well as Russian sovereignty over Crimea, neither of which are "mild" demands from a Ukrainian point of view.
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 11, 2022 at 11:23
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    Mild demands? Even those demands are not mild, and as @F1Krazy noted, that is not all than Russia demands. The people of Ukraine want their country to be their country rather than a puppet of an authoritarian regime. Mar 11, 2022 at 11:39
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    This isn't answerable unless you're the Ukrainian leadership, unfortunately.
    – Allure
    Mar 11, 2022 at 11:45
  • Ukraine probably has publicly announced why they disagreeing with Russia. This question could show more research about the topic. In the Wikipedia article about the Russo-Ukrainian war there might be many relevant references for example. Mar 11, 2022 at 11:53
  • The two presented options may not be realistic. They might be seen as overly optimistic or pessimistic. Better to simply ask why Ukraine doesn't surrender now. And also the question should make more effort to cite the exact demands of Russia. I fear they are not really known that well and then nobody can answer this question here. It might be too speculative without knowing at least what Russia wants exactly. Mar 11, 2022 at 13:17

7 Answers 7

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Agreeing to not join NATO isn't any sort of guarantee that your "2" would not happen.

Russia promised in a 1994 (Budapest) memorandum to not attack Ukraine if it gives up nuclear weapons (which Ukraine did). Before this 2022 invasion, Russia has made numerous allegations, among which that Ukraine was secretly working on nukes. That was done almost certainly to justify breaking the 1994 assurance.

There's nothing that says that if Ukraine puts in its constitution to not join NATO, Russia won't allege at one point Ukraine is secretly planning to do it, nonetheless. Etc.

Russia has also demanded as "by the by" that Ukraine demilitarize. Just take this TASS headline of March 3

Russia to demilitarize Ukraine even after peace agreements — Lavrov

It's usually attached as a seemingly innocuous footnote to the Russian territorial demands. So that probably means your 2 "be ruled under Russian influence/control", like Belarus. Not exactly a vision of prosperity. Especially since Western sanction (that are unlikely to be lifted as long as Putin is in power) have been largely extended to Belarus.

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  • Of course it's not guaranteed! Nothing is. There's risks involved, obviously. But probablistically, I think it's quite fair to say that the outcome, as described in scenario #2, is a lot more realistic than some delusional fairytale story about how Ukraine beats Russia and lives happily ever after. That is probably 10x or 100x less likely than my scenario #2, so even when we include uncertainty into the equation, the choice of Ukraine still doesn't add up.
    – Jaood
    Mar 11, 2022 at 13:37
  • Furthermore, I don't care about the breach of the Budapest-memorandum. What somebody says or promises is irrevelant, what matters is what is in their own best intention ... and if Putin can get Ukraine to be neutral, or even somewhat Russia-friendly, then it is NOT in his best intention to keep on attacking it further, which would only destabilize a potential trade-partner and cause unnecessary losses to Russian military and economy (through sanctions and such). This is how you make strategic decisions about what will happen .... not by believing in people's promises and agreements.
    – Jaood
    Mar 11, 2022 at 13:37
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    Agreeing to not join NATO isn't any sort of guarantee that your "2" would not happen. This is why Zelensky is now proposing a non-NATo agreement with US, Russia and other neighboring countries.
    – Roger V.
    Mar 11, 2022 at 13:54
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Your questions assume that what Russia says is the reason and not just the pretext for war. If Ukraine were to adress the pretext without resolving the reason, the next pretext will come along, possibly with Ukraine in a weaker position.

According to Western analysts quoting Russians, the Russian government is afraid of the spread of color revolutions. The West supported color revolutions as an expression of the desires of the civil society in the respective countries, while Russia saw them as a Western-instigated plot to overthrow existing governments in the respective countries.

Russia also complained that the expansion of NATO was akin to what the Chinese called unequal treaties, imposed on Russia in a historical moment of weakness. Putin has demands for a rollback beyond Ukraine, so giving in on one point would not resolve the conflict.

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Losing the possibility to join the European Union would be significant loss. Not only the new members of EU (like Baltic states) received various trading benefits and significant support from EU during they development after the fall of the Soviet Union, EU also opens access to the European job market from that ordinary citizens can benefit from. With isolation from both EU and Russian side, there is a reasonable threat for Ukraine to become an economic swamp rather then a "prosperous nation". I see why this cannot be given up.

As about NATO, Ukrainian president has already told this can be negotiated.

I am not sure about the occupied territories but countries usually do not give the owned territory easily, so nothing strange that the same is happening here as well.

It is also not very clear what the "de-nazification" actually means. If it resolves to "we appoint all your government, selecting politicians that we see fit", unlikely to be very acceptable.

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    Did Russia really demand that Ukraine does not join the EU?
    – Roger V.
    Mar 11, 2022 at 14:06
  • Was so written in the question. Does it not? Separate question?
    – Stančikas
    Mar 11, 2022 at 14:56
  • It is written in the question, but I doubt that Russia actually demanded this (although it may appear somewhere inexplicitly).
    – Roger V.
    Mar 11, 2022 at 14:59
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    If Ukraine is not part of EU it doesn´t automaticaly mean to be isolated from EU. Switzerland is not part of EU or NATO, but is a very prosperious country.
    – convert
    Mar 12, 2022 at 12:14
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Zelenskyy has promised Ukrainians that he will take Crimea back, by any means necessary.

NATO has previously offered Ukraine membership. In 2019, Ukraine's constitution was amended with specific language requiring the president to implement Ukraine's strategic course of reaching full membership in NATO. The course continued.

This was seen, in light of the Crimea promise, as a means to the end: a NATO member would be in a much better position, militarily, to take over the disputed territory. Putin has indicated that he would see that course of action as leading to imminent war.

Given Crimea's strategic importance, there is no non-military option for retaking it. Putin's recent remarks about possible use of nuclear force echo his more specific previous rhetoric: that he considers Crimea not a conquest, but an organic part of Russia protected by nuclear forces.

The terms offered in December-January were to rescind all plans for NATO membership and allow a bilingual policy in Donbass. Now Putin's demands are stronger, although these are likely just a starting position for negotiations. Since Ukraine is doing better than expected in the war, it's possible that Zelensky expects continued resistance to improve his negotiating strength.

To simply accept the demands as they are, after promising to take Crimea back, would be politically damaging for Zelenskyy.

The big sticking point is the status of Crimea. At this point, it's unlikely that Putin would accept anything other than recognition as part of Russia for it. The rest is likely up for trading.

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  • Do you have any more reliable source for a NATO promise to admit Ukraine as a NATO member? What you linked seems to be a youtube video which makes this claim without any further sources. No reliable news source that I am aware of talks/talked about Ukraine being promised to become a NATO member.
    – quarague
    Mar 11, 2022 at 12:45
  • @quarague reuters.com/article/us-nato-idUSL0179714620080403
    – Allure
    Mar 11, 2022 at 12:47
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    @Allure Thanks, that is a good source. But note what was actually promised: the US wanted an immediate start of membership negotiations, this was rebuffed and instead there was a promise that they might be allowed to become members at some undeclared point in the future but definitely not right now.
    – quarague
    Mar 11, 2022 at 12:50
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    @quarague Added sources. The more relevant event was probably Ukraine's change of constitution to enshrine a strive for NATO membership (link included)
    – Therac
    Mar 11, 2022 at 13:02
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Decided to turn my comment into a full answer.

This question is based on a false assumption: namely, that preventing Ukraine from joining NATO and/or the EU is Russia's only demand. This has never been the case. In December last year, Russia presented a list of demands that included NATO withdrawing all its troops from countries that had entered the alliance after 1997, and not allowing any new countries into the alliance (not just Ukraine).

On March 7th, with the invasion underway, Russia presented a new list of four demands that it wants Ukraine to meet before it will call off its military activities. They may all seem reasonable, but when you put them all together in context, suddenly they stop looking quite so reasonable.

1. For Ukraine to enshrine neutrality in its constitution, preventing it from joining NATO and the EU.

This seems like a reasonable demand, but fear of Russian invasion or subversion, and the protection that those organisations would provide, was one of the main reasons Ukraine wanted to join them in the first place. For what it's worth, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has expressed a willingness to abandon joining NATO, though this has less to do Russia's demands and more to do with his dissatisfaction with NATO's response to the invasion:

Regarding NATO, I have cooled down regarding this question long ago after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine. The alliance is afraid of controversial things and confrontation with Russia.

He does not, however, seem to have backed down with regards to joining the EU.

2. For Ukraine to cease all military hostilities.

This demand is predicated in the Russian belief that Ukraine are the aggressors and have been committing genocide against ethnic Russians in the Donbas region, on whose behalf Russia is intervening. In other words, it's Russia saying "You started this, we'll stop firing if you stop first". The international consensus, however, is that Russia has used false flag operations to paint Ukraine as the aggressor, and that Ukraine is merely defending itself from an unjustified invasion.

Furthermore, there have been a number of ceasefire violations reported during the Donbas conflict, and several more reported during the present invasion, which cast doubt over whether a Ukrainian ceasefire would be honoured, and would likely make them reluctant to offer one in the first place.

3. For Ukraine to recognise Crimea as being part of Russia.

As you've noted, Russia already de facto controls Crimea and has done for eight years, so why not just accept reality and give in to this demand? Well, firstly, as ZOMVID-19 noted in their answer, Zelensky has repeatedly promised to take back control of Crimea, one way or another. Reneging on that promise and giving up on Crimea would be political suicide.

Secondly, Russia's annexation of Crimea is widely deemed to have been illegal. If Country A can steal part of Country B's territory by force, and Country B just allows it, that sets a very dangerous precedent - not only for Country B, but for any other countries with neighbours similar to Country A. Countries highly value their territorial integrity and generally take a dim view of anything that threatens it.

Thirdly, Vladimir Putin has repeatedly expressed Russian irredentist beliefs, seeking to reclaim lands that he believes are rightfully Russia's. Just two days before the invasion, he declared in a speech that Ukraine was one such land, and that its statehood was illegitimate. As such, if Putin is allowed to keep Crimea, there's no guarantee he'll stop there - he may well attempt to conquer the rest of Ukraine at a later date, under the belief that it should be rightfully his.

4. For Ukraine to acknowledge the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

This is unpalatable to Ukraine for much the same reason that the loss of Crimea would be: it's a threat to their territorial integrity. Again, however, Zelensky has expressed a willingness to discuss this:

It is important to me how people who want to be part of Ukraine will live there. I am interested in the opinion of those who see themselves as citizens of the Russian Federation. However, we must discuss this issue.

So if it can be conclusively proven that the people of Donetsk and Luhansk want to be part of Russia - or at least, not part of Ukraine - Zelensky may be willing to agree to this demand, but that's a big if, and until then, the chances of him agreeing seem slim.


Additionally, while they haven't included it in their list of demands, it's clear from Russia's rhetoric that they want the Ukrainian government, whom they describe as "drug addicts and neo-Nazis", to be removed from power (and, presumably, replaced with a pro-Russian government akin to that of Viktor Yanukovych, who was previously deposed in the Euromaidan uprising). It should be fairly self-evident why the Ukrainian government won't agree to that one.


Finally, there's the simple matter of morality. As you noted, choosing Option 1 and giving in to Russia's demands would be the easy thing for Ukraine to do, but would it be the morally correct thing to do? Would it be the brave thing to do? What kind of message would it send to the rest of the world about Ukraine's willingness to stand up to the likes of Vladimir Putin? Zelensky knows this, and he's made his opinion on that matter abundantly clear:

I never wanted to be a country which is begging something on its knees. We are not going to be that country, and I don't want to be that president.

Granted, he's talking about NATO accession rather than Russia's demands, but this clearly isn't a man who's going to be cowed by threats of (or, indeed, actual) violence against his people.

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    "would it be the morally correct thing to do?" Yes, without a doubt. Ukraine has no reasonable chance at winning, so the only real question is how much of Ukraine gets destroyed and how many Ukrainian lives are lost before Russia defeats them.
    – nick012000
    Mar 12, 2022 at 8:55
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As of the last couple of days, Ukraine proposes (see here, here, here and here)

  • A security pact, where the Ukraine independence would be guaranteed by the US, Turkey, Russia and other neighboring countries
  • A high degree of autonomy for Crimea and the self-proclaimed republics in the east of Ukraine

De facto this means Ukraine essentially accepting the pre-war Russian demands of not joining the NATO (hence a separate agreement) and the autonomy for the eastern republics (as per Minsk agreements). The only point of discord here would be the status of Crimea, which had already then been considered by Russia as its teritory.

However, those were the pre-war demandas. Since then Russia has recognized independence of the eastern republics and occupied significant part of Ukraine. It is doubtful that it could walk back on these decisions (unless the Russian army is routed by Ukrainians, which is not a very likely outcome in the short term). Moreover, since then Russia has added a new demand of denazification of Ukraine - it is not entirely clear what this means and whether Russia would really insist on it. (If the question is about the right-wing extrimists - these would have to be dismantled in any case, if Ukraine is to join the EU.)

To summarize:

  • Ukraine seems to be at the point where it is ready to accept humiliating demands in order to stop the bloodshed
  • It is not clear whether these concessions would be sufficient for Russia
  • There is nor eason to believe that Western powers intervene more forcefully to support Ukraine
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    Note that to give a degree of autonomy to Crimea, Ukraine would first have to have it. Pre-2014, Russia would've probably accepted a special status as a compromise, but they've considered it part of their land for 8 years now.
    – Therac
    Mar 11, 2022 at 13:04
  • @ZOMVID-21 this is what I said: The only point of discord here would be the status of Crimea, which had already then been considered by Russia as its teritory.
    – Roger V.
    Mar 11, 2022 at 13:05
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Why would they, now (March 11th)? Three weeks ago, maybe. Three weeks from now, three months from now, maybe.

But now? At some point both parties will have to go to the negotiating table, but what gets agreed then depends on how the war, and a possible subsequent resistance movement, has gone.

Russia's assault has developed not necessarily to Russia's advantage, so far, and people will have lost family and friends in this war. Accommodation may not be that popular a move, to the Ukrainians.

It's going to be difficult to get any long term peaceful resolution that gets Russia exactly what it was asking for 3 weeks ago and gets Ukraine nothing. The easiest point of concession for Ukraine is NATO membership: they know they're not getting it, but they can also count themselves relatively well-served by the level of Western support they are getting without it. And all parties understand it's a bit of a red flag, not without reasons, to Russia.

This reluctance to deal on Russia's terms is not least because, whatever the world and Ukrainians thought of Putin's ethics and trustworthiness 3 weeks ago has been proved to be unduly naive and optimistic.

Any "security guarantees" will also run into the problem that Russia has signed exactly that towards Ukraine in 1994's Budapest Memorandums. Such guarantees may be negotiating points but they're hardly a total reassurance to Ukraine.

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