This article is part of the series—Raisina Edit 2022
As the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to unfold, major questions for the conflict arise: How long will the Ukrainians be able to continue their resistance and offensive operations against the Russian military invasion? What agreements, if any, will the negotiators make for Ukraine going forward? Will the European countries show a united front and support Ukraine’s entry into the European Union (EU)? Is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) membership feasible for Ukraine? What will happen to the millions of displaced people and refugees and when will they be able to safely return to their homeland? What roles are there for different players, driven by their own states’ interests to engage and participate in this process? Can the EU and other actors share tasks in solidarity and help stabilise and rebuild the country?
Ukrainians Stand Strong
Although it is too soon to provide sustainable solutions to most of these questions, the reality is that the Ukrainian people are effectively resisting. The Ukrainians have made it clear that they will not walk any path that results in any form of Russian governance or influence. They have demonstrated that they will not give up their independence. Thus far, each of us has watched from the sidelines as the Ukrainians have fought back against Russia to resist invasion and reclaim their lands. A nearly decade-long conflict has delivered almost half a million combat experienced veterans and highly motivated people—both men and women—who are prepared to defend their cities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has clearly underestimated the resolve of the Ukrainian leadership and citizens to fight back, while also receiving widespread criticism in the form of major sanctions from the broader European community and beyond.
The Russian military has experienced significant losses accompanied by technical, logistical, and strategic failures—demonstrating that Russia is not the great power contender that many had feared. Some widely debated issues related
to weak logistics and not having enough fuel for tanks and armoured personnel carriers or food for soldiers are strong indicators that the “war plan” was hasty and poorly executed. Russian President Vladimir Putin has clearly underestimated the resolve of the Ukrainian leadership and citizens to fight back, while also receiving widespread criticism in the form of major sanctions from the broader European community and beyond. Moreover, there has been an anti-war momentum growing in Russia through demonstrations against the backdrop of either very patriotic or passive positions toward the war. Either way, there are signs of cracks among the Russian elite, private companies, members of parliament, and public—all with demands to end the invasion and seek a ceasefire.
Moving Towards Neutrality?
At the time of writing (early April), the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are yet to result in any serious discourse on ending the conflict. Russia’s very public position suggests that no viable peace agreement can be made and progress in acceptable solutions toward a ceasefire have not been successful. For Ukraine, constitutional changes will need to include neutrality and preserving territorial integrity since the Constitution aligns
with “the irreversibility of the European and Euro-Atlantic course”. A simple referendum cannot bring amendments, and as such, the Ukrainian parliament needs to be fully functional. This is not possible with the country under a state of emergency. The Ukrainian leadership needs to invite major institutions to the table to gain clear majority votes. In addition, Ukrainian citizens should be invited to participate in a referendum to guarantee more widespread support.
How should security guarantees be negotiated that result in acceptable concessions for Moscow? While Ukraine requires protections, via a separate treaty, Russia actively encourages the Austrian and Swedish types of neutrality regimes—which are voluntary and lack serious security guarantees. Additionally, there is the question of Crimea—while Ukraine might be willing to decouple the issue and work towards an agreement on the future of Crimea with Russia separately, for Moscow, there is no discussion about withdrawing from the Peninsula. The reality is that even before the start of the current war in Ukraine, it was clear that Russia’s interventions in Georgia in 2008 and the occupation of Crimea in 2014, would lead to a gradual reshaping of the Eurasian security environment. President Putin and his supporters not only want to stop NATO’s eastward enlargement, but also regain some influence in the former Soviet space.
Seeking Unity, Working with the Ukrainian People
Greater involvement by the European governments and their people, as well as others, is required. Warm welcomes and assistance to the Ukrainian refugees have been forthcoming across borders
with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Russia, and Belarus. Many continue on their journeys to other destinations, seeking refuge with relatives and friends, while some have applied for an asylum. Not every country is equally equipped and prepared for intakes of larger volumes of people. Previously, Germany and Sweden welcomed unprecedented numbers of refugees when there was strong ambivalence about or objections to this in other countries in Europe. They faced dilemmas over suitable accommodations, and the safety of the vulnerable, and relied on short-term solutions. Their experience should serve as a guide to the current recipients.
The reality is that even before the start of the current war in Ukraine, it was clear that Russia’s interventions in Georgia in 2008 and the occupation of Crimea in 2014, would lead to a gradual reshaping of the Eurasian security environment.
Estimates show that as of 10 April 2022, 4,547,735 refugees
have fled to the neighbouring countries and beyond, in addition to the 113,000, who have moved to Russia from Luhansk and Donetsk. Europe's more than 1.5 million-strong Ukrainian diaspora has been helping with deliveries
of essential items, medical equipment and supplies, as well as weapons to support those who have stayed. There is hope that many refugees will be able to return to Ukraine and help to rebuild it. Many Ukrainians are focused on joining Western institutions and collaborations, and distance themselves from Russia. They demonstrated their choice during the 2013-14 Euromaidan movement
and made various appeals for the country’s integration with the West.
Coordinated Action, Not Fence-Sitting
The current conflict has disrupted trade flows and Ukraine’s leading partners—China, Poland, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, and Russia—have been affected by it. No doubt, these countries and others will want to continue with their engagements with Ukraine and build on previous arrangements. The oil shortages and issues with exports of agricultural products affect the international community. Ukraine—being a large supplier of agricultural products—plays a prominent role in supplying seed oils, corn, and wheat. It is, therefore, pertinent for the EU to live up to the agreed Economic and Investment Plan and support small and medium-sized enterprises and small farms in Ukraine to boost their development in the post-war recovery.
The individual countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have been acting based on their historical experiences or geographical proximity to the conflict.
The Europeans should embrace the momentum of the hard-won victories of the Ukrainian people and rally behind them with assistance in a coordinated manner. So far, the individual countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have been acting based on their historical experiences or geographical proximity to the conflict. Some countries have a divided stance
towards Russia and Ukraine, with the government supporting the Ukrainian side but society being divided due to strong pro-Russian traditions (for instance, Slovakia), while others are more openly pro-Russian (for instance, Bulgaria, Hungary or Serbia). On the other hand, there are those that have provided tangible military support
(for instance, the Baltics or the Czech Republic) or humanitarian assistance (Poland) to Ukraine without any hesitation.
The CEE states, having experience with democratic reforms and integration processes as they progressed toward EU memberships, are well placed to assist with Ukraine’s integration with Western institutions. But they require a strong involvement of the US and other Western countries, especially Germany. The US under the Biden administration has opted for greater restraint after the debacle surrounding the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The leadership has voiced a strong support for the Ukrainian people and opted for various sanctions. But this is not the time to disengage; the Eastern flank needs more tangible support. Equally, various institutions, such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe or the Lublin Triangle, should assist with engaging civil society and help with steps toward Ukraine joining the Western institutions. There is no easy path towards the EU or NATO membership for Ukraine at this stage, but if the Ukrainian people wish to join these organisations and are prepared to do the necessary reforms once the war ends, they should be given all the necessary assistance, just like the other CEE countries were when they were going through the monitoring and harmonisation of legal systems and economic reforms.
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