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My question is based on this post by Radio Free Europe.

In a nutshell, there was a peace plan suggested that includes security guarantees for Ukraine. What are some reasonable mechanisms for such guarantees taking into account that Russia is a nuclear state and a permanent member of the UN security council?

Detailed question

Here's the specific part of the Radio Free post that inspired my question:

In comments released on December 25 on Russian state television, Putin said he was open to negotiations to end the war in Ukraine but suggested that the Ukrainians were the ones refusing to take that step.

Zelenskiy said earlier in December that Ukraine planned to initiate a summit to implement a peace formula in 2023. Zelenskiy presented the formula in November to a Group of Twenty summit.

The 10-point formula includes the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression, and security guarantees for Ukraine.

To highlight my own efforts and to facilitate further discussion, here are the options that I came up with and why I don't find them reasonable (thus asking for ideas).

  1. NATO. But back in 2021 Russia demanded not only a ban on Ukraine joining NATO but also the return of NATO troops to the 1997 positions.
  2. UN Security Council. But Russia has a veto there. There is some discussion about removing Russia from the council, but that's not the case at the moment.
  3. Non-NATO nuclear states. But those are China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea which either sideline with Russia (North Korea specifically) or maintain some form of neutrality. If any of those states were ready to provide guarantees, they'd probably have highlighted that somehow, which they didn't, unless I missed some important news.

A note on a related question

This question asks about what Ukraine expects and how that's different from a Budapest memorandum that didn't quite work as we can see. While I'm asking for an overview of possible mechanisms (or a conclusion that those don't exist). So, I don't think that mine is a duplicate.

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    UA membership of EU would hook up to mutual defense guarantees, without being part of NATO. I think this has been discussed here before. Not quite as good as NATO to Ukraine, but also considerably less "threatening" at military level to Russia. Given a good faith Russian government, only concerned with its military safety, that should work. However, there is a sense, from 2014 on, that there is also a political dimension to this - Putin's Russia needs another Belarus next door, it can't have a successful democracy, even one not in NATO. Dec 27, 2022 at 22:52
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I didn't know that the EU has a security component, thought it was only economy, regulation, and foreign policy (assuming unanimity on it). If there are no more detailed answers, I'll be glad to accept yours with the EU suggestion.
    – Igor
    Dec 27, 2022 at 22:54
  • euronews.com/my-europe/2022/06/07/… Honestly, I think the distrust is unwarranted - can't see the EU bailing on this clause, esp not when a good deal of NATO members are in EU. But honestly this comment is more of an opinion than a hard answer. You also need to take into account that everyone is questioning how sincere Putin is in talking about negotiations - military consensus is that a ceasefire would benefit a currently off-balanced Russia. I think there is a long way to go before anyone negotiates seriously. Dec 27, 2022 at 22:59
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    war started when NATO refused provide security guarantees to Russia, without doing so no one can provide enough guarantees to Ukraine Dec 29, 2022 at 4:43
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    @IvanBorsuk What kind of guarantees? Moving NATO troops back to 1997 borders so that not only Ukraine but also all of the former "socialist" countries bleed?
    – Igor
    Jan 1, 2023 at 0:38

7 Answers 7

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The US and others have, in the past, given security guarantees against a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, as well as a nuclear-armed China and North Korea. Security guarantees are not a mechanism to assure that an attack will not happen - they are a political promise that if there were to be an attack, there would be significant consequences.

For instance, the US has given security guarantees to much of Europe through NATO:

  • First there is Article 5 of the NATO treaty. The US has signed it, and failing to follow through would be a severe blow to their diplomatic credibility. Is that enough?
  • Next there is joint military planning and training for the defense of the European NATO members. The US does not just say it will defend them, it spends time and money rehearsing that. Is that enough?
  • Then there are actual military deployments. During the Cold War, care was taken to screen West German corps on the inner-German border with a thin line of US units, so that the Soviets would have to attack Americans first. In some sectors, there were entire US corps. Is that enough?
  • There was still some doubt that extended deterrence would hold, that the Americans would risk New York to avenge Paris or London. So the French and British got their own nuclear forces, at great expense relative to their budgets.

So what people would be looking for now is something that is:

  • sufficiently reassuring for Ukraine,
  • sufficiently non-provocative for Russia, and
  • something the guarantee powers are prepared to sign.

Given the history of the last eight years, and of the Budapest Memorandum before that, I doubt that Ukraine would be reassured by hollow words, or a military alliance with India, or something like that. They are looking for solid guarantees from the US and the other NATO powers.

Russia, on the other hand, claims that NATO and the US in particular are planning to break Russia by fomenting colour revolutions, etc. Their political messaging made a big point of claiming that Ukraine was controlled by Washington. So Russia is unlikely to accept any meaningful NATO guarantees.

The US and NATO have made clear that they support Ukraine only by means short of going to war with Russia. NATO would be unlikely to deploy tripwire forces as part of a peace deal unless that peace deal looks stable, and NATO tripwire forces defending what Russia considers to be Russian soil would be unacceptable to the Russian government.

A possible compromise might be Ukrainian EU membership, EU tripwire forces, and some understanding between EU and NATO that NATO fully backs the sole remaining nuclear power in the EU (France). But there are big hurdles to that. The NATO treaties would have to be expanded, with the possibility of spoiling by the usual suspects, and Ukraine would have to be admitted to the EU. (Being attacked by Russia did not make the corruption go away, and they are far from being a stable democracy. The EU has learned from admitting unready candidates in a rush of enthusiasm.)

In summary, I'm afraid that there will be more war before the positions of the two sides come close enough that a compromise can bridge them.

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The only mechanism that is likely to be employed in the near future is to help Ukraine arm itself to the point where Russian leadership considers any military action towards Ukraine pointless.

Given the nature of the Russian decision-making, the required level may actually be to make the possible military actions not only to look pointless, but to be actually pointless.

Previous implementations of this idea do exist and work acceptably well, given the existing limitations.

Applied to Ukraine, this looks rather expensive, but pretty much doable and in a sense already started.

Ideas involving some form of collective security (NATO membership, the proposed EU security framework or involving other remote countries) are possible in the future, but suffer from a common problem.

These other parties will percieve very big liability to benefit ratio and will be reluctant to step in, at least for a while.

The other possible strategy is to disarm Russia, e.g. by depleting it economically. Looks promising, but works at even longer timescale.

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Ukraine may become a member of NATO after the war ends. NATO membership will serve as a security guarantee for Ukraine. Note that Russia invaded, attacked or has substantial troops present only in countries that are not NATO members (e.g., Moldova, Georgia, Syria, Ukraine). Russia has not invaded any of the NATO countries, despite consistent statements on Russian state-controlled TV threatening attacks on the NATO countries.

The fact that Russia is currently opposing Ukraine joining NATO is largely irrelevant, just as Russian opposition was irrelevant when other Eastern European countries joined NATO. NATO has consistently expanded from 1990s to the present in response to the constant threat of Russian aggression.

REFERENCES:

At the June 2021 Brussels summit, NATO leaders reiterated the decision taken at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Ukraine would become a member of the Alliance with the NATO MAP as an integral part of the process and Ukraine's right to determine its own future and foreign policy course without outside interference. Secretary-General Stoltenberg also stressed that Russia will not be able to veto Ukraine's accession to NATO, as we will not return to the era of spheres of interest, when large countries decide what smaller ones should do:

Each country chooses its own path, and this also applies to joining NATO. It is up to Ukraine and the 30 NATO members to decide whether it aspires to be a member of the Alliance. Russia has no say in whether Ukraine should be a member of the Alliance. They cannot veto the decisions of their neighbors. We will not return to the era of spheres of interest, when large countries decide what to do with smaller ones.

Ukraine–NATO relations - Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukraine%E2%80%93NATO_relations


NATO returns on Tuesday to the scene of one of its most controversial decisions, intent on repeating its vow that Ukraine — now suffering through the 10th month of a war against Russia — will join the world’s biggest military alliance one day.

NATO foreign ministers will gather for two days at the Palace of the Parliament in the Romanian capital Bucharest. It was there in April 2008 that U.S. President George W. Bush persuaded his allies to open NATO’s door to Ukraine and Georgia, over vehement Russian objections.

“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,” the leaders said in a statement. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was at the summit, described this as “a direct threat” to Russia’s security.

Lorne Cook and Stephen McGrath, "14 years later, NATO is set to renew its vow to Ukraine", AP, November 28, 2022: https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-nato-europe-bucharest-1b3564af002c8e879c304a6a85bf1f97


By August 1993, Polish President Lech Wałęsa was actively campaigning for his country to join NATO, at which time Yeltsin reportedly told him that Russia did not perceive its membership in NATO as a threat to his country. Yeltsin however retracted this informal declaration the following month,[27] writing that expansion "would violate the spirit of the treaty on the final settlement" which "precludes the option of expanding the NATO zone into the East."[28][29] [...]

In February 1991, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia formed the Visegrád Group to push for European integration under the European Union and NATO, as well as to conduct military reforms in line with NATO standards. [...] That year, Russian leaders like Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev indicated their country's opposition to NATO enlargement.[40] While Russian President Boris Yeltsin did sign an agreement with NATO in May 1997 that included text referring to new membership, he clearly described NATO expansion as "unacceptable" and a threat to Russian security in his December 1997 National Security Blueprint.[41] [...]

At the 1999 Washington summit NATO issued new guidelines for membership with individualized "Membership Action Plans" for Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia in order to standardize the process for new members.[51] [...] Russia was particularly upset with the addition of the three Baltic states, the first countries that were part of the Soviet Union to join NATO.[54][52] Russian troops had been stationed in Baltic states as late as 1995,[55] but the goals of European integration and NATO membership were very attractive for the Baltic states.[56] [...]

On 25 February [2022], a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson threatened Finland and Sweden with "military and political consequences" if they attempted to join NATO.

Enlargement of NATO - Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlargement_of_NATO


Examples of statements on Russian state-controlled TV threatening attacks on the NATO countries:

Julia Davis, Russian Media Monitor:

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Realistically, given the distrust Ukraine (and the West) has of Russia the main stability point would be if Russia got such a bloody nose that it knows better to try it again given Ukraine's future military capabilities.

  • Prosecute the war long enough till Russia really wants to stop what it is doing and/or has degraded military capabilities. This is what Ukraine is doing. Keep in mind, Russia is running on the fumes of its Soviet arsenal *. Yes, they will rearm but their ability to do so will be restricted by Putin's built-in corruption and their weak economy. Currently missing at this point: Russian humility

  • Arm Ukraine enough to make a rematch unattractive to Russia. An EU membership would add a dollop of risk to Russia doing so and would also give Ukraine a more solid economy to build up armed forces on its own dime. As before, emphasize weapons with defensive capabilities rather than offensive ones (i.e. jet fighters, rather than bombers).

  • Give such concessions to Russia as would lessen their desire to try their luck again, without hindering Ukraine's security:

    • Given Russia's nukes, no one can do a Versailles Treaty on them, much as many would like. So, no, the 10 pt Zelensky plan may be a good opening gambit, but some parts of it will likely have to fall by the wayside. (As an example and as a prediction: push come to shove, I rather doubt the US will want to support Crimea's full recovery via force of arms). Currently missing at this point: Ukrainian perception of the need to make any concessions

    • NATO accession is one area where Russia has somewhat legitimate concerns (which is very different from saying that they had a good reason to invade or that it wasn't invoked as an excuse). Additionally, can't see the 30-odd NATO member states unanimously deciding to let Ukraine in, so might as well make some concession rather than pretending.

    • Hold out sanction removal as a carrot to get some meaningful concessions out of Russia, other than just trusting their signature on toilet paper.

    • EU membership could come with formal Ukrainian commitments to treat Russian language much as the rest of the EU countries treat secondary languages. Again, this is far from saying that any concerns Russia had with this subject remotely justifies their invasion (Russia has frequently used this as an excuse elsewhere). The EU has various minority protection mechanisms, Ukraine membership should be enough to allay any reasonable - rather than sham - concerns.

Last, if Russia ever muddles its way to a genuinely kinder government, the West should learn from its failures to offer genuine support in Afghanistan 1993 and USSR 1991+ and actually do their best to assist Russia to be a more successful, prosperous democracy. That sound daft, but it is the best guarantor of long term peace. Putin and his fan club have no part whatsoever in this picture however.

p.s. The reason I put the currently missing at this points is because this question is quite premature right now: both sides think they can improve their leverage with further fighting. 6 months from now things may be different, and the answers may be different. But right now, no one's very serious about negotiating. And Ukraine would likely be foolish to do so until Russia has had that bloody nose because that is the best guarantee things will be different this time.

* Alas, poor Kuznetsov, we hardly knew you

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These guarantees are described in the Presidential site of Ukraine and can be summarized well enough by the following citation:

We must make sure that the slogan “We can repeat” causes panic attacks and bad memories among Russians, that they answer only "Never again!" to it. For this, we need a military power strong enough. Security guarantees are aimed at helping us create such a power, by Andriy Yermak.

With such a guarantees implemented, President of France already suggests that Russia should be offered some security guarantees as well:

(there) is the fear that (...) the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia, by Emanuel Macron

There is no obvious reason why it would not, even it is not clear from the talk how does he propose to address this need.

Ukraine does not longer believe in just signed papers, something must actually be done. Ukrainians already received such documents in exchange to the thirds largest world nuclear power, these finally did not provide the expected security for them.

From the historical perspective, looks like the best security guarantees would be economically successful, really democratic and western oriented Russia, but for that likely the government needs to change first. For Germany after WWII there were two plans to ensure the further stability of the Europe: the Marshall Plan to help with economy revival and the Morgenthau Plan to demolish systematically all the industry, degrading Germany into agrarian country of the third world. While initially opting for the Morgenthau, the Marshall Plan has been finally selected as the better security guarantee.

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The main pragmatic source of security guarantees in the peace time is just that starting wars is quite hard and costly, so there is an overall tendency of not starting a war. Continuing a war which is already happening is much easier than starting a new one.

The fact that there is a signed peace treaty, or at least a ceasefire, is a significant deterrent which is obviously not absolute, but may be good enough to have a peace half-life of at least a decade, and then the situation may improve further.

On the other hand, it means that Russia may be expected to want some guarantees: Since starting a new war is obviously very costly, whatever interests Russia sees as its own (be it status of Russian language speakers in Ukraine, or oil/gas transit, etc) should not just be promised but there is some mechanism of enforcement - otherwise, Ukraine may immediately ignore these issues, as it did with Minsk agreements, on the rationale that Russia will not go to the next war immediately over these issues, so why bother observing them. This assumes Russia is in any position to make demands.

At this point, the "10-points formula" sounds like a list of presents that Ukraine expects from Santa for Christmas rather than a negotiable position, since it's totally not clear what's Russia's benefit in the proposed formula: μολὼν λαβέ.

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    While I appreciate your effort in going into the possible mechanics of a peace treaty, I asked specifically about the mechanism of security guarantees for Ukraine. The fact that wars are costly is in no way a guarantee as it hasn't prevented Russians from invading Georgia in 2008, Syria in circa 2013, Ukraine in 2014, and then again on a full scale in 2022. Similarly how you say that "Ukraine may immediately ignore these issues" Russia can also immediately ignore any peace decisions as they've done with the Budapest memorandum.
    – Igor
    Dec 28, 2022 at 14:05
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    For your last part, I'm struggling to imagine any possible peace without the prosecution of russia for war crimes and the destruction it caused as it was done to the Third Reich. So, all of such discussions are purely theoretical at the moment.
    – Igor
    Dec 28, 2022 at 14:09
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    Well the Budapest memorandum held for 30 (or at least 20) years. Other than that, μολὼν λαβέ indeed.
    – alamar
    Dec 28, 2022 at 14:49
  • You are right 1994-2014 is exactly 20 years which is indeed aligned with "half-life or at least a decade" part of your response. +1 for attention to numbers :)
    – Igor
    Dec 28, 2022 at 14:51
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    "signed peace treaty, or at least a ceasefire, is a sufficient deterrent". Seemed that way, to some, maybe, in... 2014. While the 10 pt Zelensky plan is indeed wishful thinking b4 a decisive victory, I fail to see why RU should get any of it was asking before the war, after being so far unable to impose its will on the battlefield. W. possible exception of a fudge on NATO membership, RU should have very little say in how UA runs itself. RU speakers have not benefited all that much from being shelled in Kharkiv and Mariupol. Imagine France invading Belgium to protect French speakers! Dec 29, 2022 at 2:56
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Referring to Budapest Memorandum is nearly pointless since it was not ratified by any party and barely has any legal meaning.

The most adequate scenario would be for Ukraine to be neutral. Russia has to repay the damages it caused if agreement will be achieved.

Alternatives like joining NATO will lead to further escalations: 1) Russia regardless of which president it will have will not tolerate that, 2) Given the nature of NATO as an offensive alliance it will lead to higher instability in Eurasia (e.g. threatening Russia would mean a danger for China and Iran too)

Last but not least I highly doubt the Russians will again trust the West and NATO considering how badly it went with Russian assets (e.g., blocking Russian assets in the EU without any adequate reasons), but making a fair agreement which will be ratified by all parties still makes sense.

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    – Community Bot
    Dec 30, 2022 at 13:25
  • Your answer is good for one possible way a peace treaty could be negotiated However, the question is that since the current leadership of Ukraine doesn't trust Russia at all (and vice versa), how can Ukraine negotiate a treaty with possible safeguards that could prevent Russia from attacking again in the future. (Ofcourse, the safeguard clauses in the treaty need to be acceptable to Russia too, or it obviously won't sign the treaty).
    – sfxedit
    Dec 30, 2022 at 16:32
  • @sfxedit that's why there must be a third party who could put both Russia and Ukraine at the table. This time it should be a proper treaty, ratified by all parties unlike infamous Budapest Memorandum.
    – Alex0xff
    Dec 30, 2022 at 16:36
  • @Alex0xff You should edit your post and add those details to your answer because otherwise it is still unhelpful to the questioner - which third-party would be acceptable to both? How can the third-party coax both to sign and ratify the terms? etc.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 30, 2022 at 16:41
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    With all the excuses that have been made for the invasion many of which would still be valid if Ukraine was neutral it wouldn't matter. Even if they had been neutral there is no reason to think that Russia would not have still done everything that it has.
    – Joe W
    Dec 30, 2022 at 16:48

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