An editorial in the January 9 Financial Times, “No reward for Putin’s aggression over Ukraine” evokes Ronald Reagan’s memorable and damaging words in a Presidential debate with Jimmy Carter: “There you go again” — in this case, with just one more opinion piece on the Ukraine situation that is one-sidedly incomplete.
First, it says that Russia “settled its own relationship with [NATO] in 1998.” Presumably the FT means the toothless NATO-Russia Council, which was very much a consolation prize negotiated with the increasingly ineffectual Boris Yeltsin when NATO expansion was off and running. When I interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-90s, his assessment was to the point: “We were screwed”. The “not one inch” to the East agreement on NATO was perhaps reached in a time when a handshake might be seen as binding as a scrap of paper; and for a successor to Yeltsin who shares Gorbachev’s assessment and has the mandate to act on it, Putin’s current position is entirely predictable.
Secondly, under the heading of “common ground” on the NATO-Russia divide, the FT goes on to say “even if it means reinventing some of the treaty provisions that Russia has violated or neglected in the past ”. What of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, abandoned not by Moscow but by Washington? And why is Russia’s demand on non-deployment of intermediate-range missiles “lopsided”? Indeed, if it is so, it is in NATO’s favor, since missiles based in Poland and Romania are uncomfortably close to Russia.
Thirdly, the West should “hope for the best from its diplomacy while preparing for the worst by underlining its readiness to impose tough sanctions and to bolster Kyiv’s defenses”. As for sanctions, two observations come to mind: in Russia and elsewhere “targeted sanctions” are an oxymoron–the eventual targets are those who deserve them least; and, they don’t work–the University of Chicago’s Robert Pape has shown that sanctions do not change the behavior of their targets, indeed, we have a slew of sanctions on Russia already, and to what policy-reversal effect?
Still more, the FT speaks of “bolstering Kyiv’s defenses” as if this were a measure to be implemented in the future. In fact, successive U.S. Presidents, Republican and Democrat, have provided military hardware and “expert assistance” to Ukraine since the 1990s; Mr. Biden approved $125 million in new sales in 2021. US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has boasted that the US has given $2.4 billion to Ukraine since 2014. The Ukrainian military regularly conducts joint military exercises with NATO forces, under such exotic names as “Saber Guardian”, Operation Fearless Guardian” and, in the Black Sea, “Sea Breeze”. As a report from the Washington-based libertarian Cato Institute concluded, “Ukraine is being treated as a NATO member in all but name”.
The “common ground” the FT cites already exists, and is not mentioned in your editorial: the Minsk Agreements of 2014-15. Negotiated by the governments of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany the Agreements call for a cessation by military aggression and withdrawal of troops and weaponry from both sides; a degree of autonomy in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine, where the Russophone population is in the majority; and full authority over national borders by the Ukrainian government–all to be overseen by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Finally, Russia’s desired outcome of Ukraine as a buffer state between itself and NATO, beholden in security terms to neither but with constructive relations with both, is not at all a bad outcome, especially given the alternatives.
David C. Speedie, a member of the Board of ACURA, was Senior Fellow and Director of the Program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York from 2007 to 2017.