July 7, 2022

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Zelensky’s muddled neutrality plan may prove a siren song for Ukraine

2 min read

The writer is senior fellow at the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute

In his address to the Israeli Knesset on March 20, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky quoted Golda Meir, Israel’s late premier: “We want to live, our neighbours want to see us dead.”

For a president who characterises Russia’s aims in such terms, Zelensky’s search for a neutrality agreement is puzzling. More puzzling still is his belief that security can be guaranteed by a country whose interests are inimical to one’s own. Yet that is what Ukraine’s blueprint for neutrality, presented last week, proposes.

Before the first world war, neutrality was a recognised legal status, painstakingly negotiated and largely respected. Belgian neutrality, enshrined in the 1839 Treaty of London, endured until Germany denounced it as a “scrap of paper” and invaded the country in 1914. The 1815 Treaty of Paris recognised “armed neutrality”, the basis of Switzerland’s status. France became a guarantor of that arrangement, and the overall Concert system, after Napoleon Bonaparte’s final defeat.

The fate of neutral countries in the 20th century, such as Belgium and Norway, was far less fortunate. Finland was an exception that proved the rule. Its neutrality held up because the Soviet Union realised that Finland’s independence had become indestructible.

Can Ukraine secure Finnish-style neutrality? Like Finland, it has fought Russia to a standstill. But the routing of its forces is far from impossible, and Russia’s stakes in Ukraine well surpass its interests in Finland. Without Ukraine in tow, the myth of a “Russian world” collapses. For Vladimir Putin, it is a personal obsession to undo what he considers the crime of the separation of Russia and “Little Russia”.

In view of these factors, Zelensky’s motives for pursuing negotiations remain a matter of speculation. But they are discernible. First, 14 years after Nato declared that Ukraine would one day join the alliance,…

2022-04-03 07:00:31

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