But they note that it is unlikely that the United States and its allies will eventually provide Ukraine with the kinds of legally binding protections it seeks.
At peace talks with Russia in Istanbul this week, Ukrainian negotiators suggested that Ukraine might be willing to stay neutral when it comes to NATO. But at the same time, they want Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, to ensure through ratified treaties that they will protect Ukraine in the event of another Russian invasion in the future.
As a way for Russia to save face in the negotiations, the Ukrainians suggested that any such security guarantees would not apply to the breakaway territories of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.
“We insist that this be an agreement on security guarantees signed and ratified (by parliaments) to avoid repeating the error of the Budapest Memorandum,” Ukrainian MP David Arakhamia, Ukraine’s chief negotiator with Russia, said this week.
This memorandum is an agreement signed between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia in 1994 that forced Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for protection from its signatories. Ukrainian officials have criticized the agreement as futile and even harmful — security obligations were not legally binding, and many of those nuclear weapons were awarded to Russia under the agreement, strengthening its arsenal.
A Western official told CNN that “anything less than a full commitment to defend Ukraine will not be enough for the Ukrainians,” and some Biden administration officials acknowledge that another Budapest Memorandum-type agreement would not be helpful.
A number of US and Western officials have taken a skeptical approach about potential security guarantees, with many saying it is still too early to discuss any contingencies while negotiations continue. Some US officials were surprised by Ukraine’s announcement after the Istanbul talks that Western security guarantees might be on the table.
“We are in an ongoing discussion with the Ukrainians about ways we can help ensure their sovereignty and security,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said this week. “But there is nothing specific about security guarantees that I can speak to at this time.”
Other European officials said they are similarly waiting to hear more Ukrainians before committing to anything publicly. A US official said talks were still in their early stages with Ukraine about what the security arrangement might look like.
However, an Article V type commitment is unlikely given that the United States and many of its allies, including the United Kingdom, remain unwilling to put their forces in direct confrontation with Russian forces. The theory that Russia would not attack Ukraine if it had Western security guarantees still appears to be a greater risk than the United States and its allies intend to tolerate.
“Ukraine is not a member of NATO,” Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC on Wednesday when asked if the UK was ready to become a guarantor of Ukraine’s independence.
“We will not engage Russia in a direct military confrontation,” he said.
Search EU membership as a solution
Several European countries – including Poland, Latvia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic – have been pushing for Ukraine to join the European Union and believe that membership can provide the country with a measure of protection.
“It will be difficult for Russia to attack an EU member state,” a European official said. “Because that could automatically involve more support for that country.”
But even the most staunchly pro-EU members of Ukraine’s parliament say EU membership will not be enough to ensure their safety.
Meanwhile, NATO member states have not yet had strong discussions within the alliance about the Ukraine security proposal, the EU official said, because they still do not have confidence that the Russians are negotiating with Ukraine in good faith — and that any potential agreement is supported. Through Western security commitments can be quickly overturned.
First, the official said, Russia must prove that it is serious about retreating and is committed to allowing Ukraine to maintain a strong military, and abandon Ukraine’s demands for “disarmament.” Above all, the official added, Ukraine must win the war first and get the support it needs to do so.
Another member of Ukraine’s parliament, Anastya Radina, said Ukraine was looking for “viable security guarantees and not just another Budapest Memorandum”.
“Let me just remind you that under the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine destroyed parts of our nuclear arsenal, but a few were transferred to Russia,” Radina said. “Where did that get us from? Hearing now that the world can do nothing for Russia because it has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. But we were paid to contribute to that arsenal.”
Echoing the European official, Radina said the bottom line is that “before we have proper talks on security guarantees, we really need to ensure that Ukraine wins this war.”
“What helps on the ground is the weapon,” she added. “And we asked for these weapons to be delivered immediately. Preferably yesterday. The best option was the day before yesterday. That is the urgency of the matter.”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
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