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Ephemeral guarantees of neutral status as a trap for Ukraine that could turn into a national catastrophe

Photo: Negotiations between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Turkey
Source: Deutsche Welle

Ukraine and the Russian Federation continue the negotiation process. Volodymyr Zelenskyy repeatedly stressed that he considered the dialogue necessary, first of all, in order to stop the war, and pointed out that parties will have to negotiate. First of all, according to the President of Ukraine, it is necessary to stop the fire, Russia should withdraw its troops, and after the meeting of the presidents the parties will agree on security guarantees. Without ultimatums. After a month of a successful defense operation conducted by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), it became clear that Russia was incapable of capturing and retaining all of the country, and Ukrainian society, on a wave of emotional uplift and self-belief, set maximum goals in this war. In such circumstances, there were discussions about the feasibility of negotiations at the current stage, as well as fears about the intention of the Ukrainian leadership to make concessions to Russia in the negotiation process.

In an interview on March 23, Volodymyr Zelenskyy outlined the position of the state leadership as follows: “History will not forgive us for the loss of our population. Our state will not forgive us for the loss of our people, but also our generations will not forgive us for the loss of our territories, they will say: "And what did we fight for?". Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that Donbas and Crimea should return and it is a matter of time. However, the priority is to end hostilities.[1] Thus, the issues of territorial integrity and sovereignty have apparently been removed from the agenda. However, on March 29, after the announcement of the details of the document on which the Ukrainian and Russian delegations are working and which can be signed by the presidents of the two countries as a result of a possible meeting, many questions arise.

The talks in Istanbul were mediated by Turkey. Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who was also present at the meeting, helped organize the communication. This fact has somewhat outraged Ukrainian observers, but the presence of Oleksandr Chalyy, a longtime supporter of Ukraine's neutral status and an advocate for the Kremlin's interests, was even more significant. According to Oleksiy Garan, professor of political science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, in 2020 Oleksandr Chalyy was at the center of a scandal at the Munich Security Conference, signing a 12-step plan to strengthen Ukraine's security together with the Russian pro-government center. Paragraph 12 referred to the "launch of a new national dialogue on identity", which was to take into account the views of, inter alia, Russia and Hungary on "topics of history, national memory, language, identity and minority experience". The plan also referred to the lifting of sanctions against Russia before the implementation of Minsk, the normalization of EU-Russia relations, the annexation of Crimea was not mentioned.[2]

Chalyy also participated in the development of the Budapest Memorandum. As a result of signing this document in 1994, Ukraine gave up all its nuclear arsenal and joined the NPT. However, later, contrary to the provisions of this document, the Russian Federation attacked Ukraine, while other signatory countries did not prevent Russian aggression. Therefore, the presence of Oleksandr Chalyy in the Ukrainian delegation has a share of symbolism, as the announced clauses of the future Russian-Ukrainian agreement in its current form resemble the "paper guarantees" of the Budapest Memorandum.

Ukrainian proposals, which were revealed after negotiations by several members of the delegation are as follows:

  1. Russian Federation army should withdraw to the borders as of February 23, 2022.
  2. A number of countries around the world give Ukraine security guarantees similar in essence to Article 5 on Collective Defense of the NATO Charter. Potential guarantor states offered by Ukraine are Russia, China, USA, Great Britain, France, Turkey, Germany, Canada, Italy, Poland, Israel. Ukraine, as planned, will also receive armed support from these countries.
  3. Guarantees do not apply to Crimea and ORDLO.
  4. Ukraine, according to the idea, is also amending the Constitution and abandoning Euro-Atlantic aspirations. In addition to abandoning NATO course, Ukraine refuses to join other military alliances. That is, to observe a neutral status, according to which it is forbidden to deploy foreign military contingents on its territory, while military exercises can be held only with the consent of the guarantor states (including the Russian Federation and China).
  5. Also, Russia and Ukraine are starting negotiations for a period of 15 years on the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. In the document, the Ukrainian side is also ready to fix the point about the lack of intention to return the Crimean Peninsula by military means. At the same time, there is no such clause regarding Donbas.[3]

Currently, the parties are agreeing on positions and so far there is no final draft document and depending on the state of affairs at the front, Ukraine's negotiation position may change dramatically.

However, currently Ukraine's position is more than contradictory:

    1) Omitting the issue of Crimea for 15 years starts the process of legitimizing the Russian occupation forces on the peninsula. In addition, taking into account the Japanese experience with the return of the four Kuril Islands, presumably this process will take decades.

    2) Taking the ORDLO out of the negotiations, firstly, ignores internally displaced persons who want to return home, and secondly, given the absence of commitment not to return Donbas by force, leaves unresolved a factor that could lead to a resumption of hostilities between Ukraine and Russia.

    3) The Ukrainian delegation is considering the possibility of limiting state sovereignty in exchange for ephemeral security guarantees in the spirit of the Budapest Memorandum. If the countries proposed by Ukraine are ready to provide security guarantees, then it is not clear what is preventing them from doing so now and accepting Ukraine into NATO. If the document is approved and Russia attacks again, what will change the reaction of the "guarantor countries" if at the moment they are not ready to provide Ukraine even with offensive weapons in sufficient quantities? It is unlikely that Israel would have sent troops to defend Ukraine given the fact the Israeli government did not help to counter Russian aggression, did not impose sanctions and refused to accept Ukrainian refugees. The selection of guarantor countries did not take into account the level of guarantees that these countries can provide and whether they are ready to provide any guarantees at all, given the threats from Russia.

When considering the issue of Ukrainian neutrality, examples of the Kingdom of Sweden and Finland are often given. Finns, however, are not proud of the term "Finlandization". It concerns Finland's strict neutrality during the Cold War, approved by a treaty with Moscow in 1948 at a time of high tension between the Soviet Union and the West. The treaty asserted that Finland, unlike other Eastern European countries, had not been invaded by the Soviets, but in return remained outside NATO and allowed its giant neighbor a significant influence on its domestic and foreign policies.[4] However, the essence of the policy of neutrality of Finland and Sweden after the collapse of the Soviet Union has changed dramatically. Both countries maintain close security cooperation both bilaterally and with other Nordic states within NORDEFCO, the EU, the North Atlantic Alliance as enhanced opportunities partners, as well as with the United States. In fact, both countries are integrated into the European security system, and their policy of neutrality is more than conditional. We should also not forget the recent statements of the Finnish leadership, which show that the aggression against Ukraine has forced the Finns to consider more seriously the possibility of joining NATO as a tool to prevent Russian aggression.

In addition, the principle of neutrality inherently contradicts the principle of collective defense. Consequently, the format outlined by the Ukrainian delegation contradicts international law, namely the 1907 Hague Convention respecting the rights and duties of neutral powers and persons in case of war on land.

The militarization factor remains important in the security context. In addition to joint military exercises, states outside the alliance must strengthen their defense capabilities to raise the price for possible aggression and thus avert it. Boris Johnson has already stated that Britain will promote the militarization of Ukraine after the war. However, Russia, which for some reason proved to be the guarantor of Ukraine's national security in this project, despite the fact that it has committed military aggression and continues the bloody war against the Ukrainian people, has a completely opposite position. Ideally, Ukrainian neutrality from the Kremlin's point of view should imply not only a lack of military cooperation with other countries, but also a lack of Ukraine's defense self-sufficiency. Thus, a neutral Ukraine without clear mechanisms ensuring the security by the guarantor countries in practice will mean a unilateral restriction of sovereignty and return to the Russian Federation sphere of influence.

Russia is waging a total war against Ukraine. Vladimir Putin will not make concessions, because any concessions in Ukraine are a personal defeat for him. Therefore, negotiations, armistices, will be used by Russia exclusively for war purposes. After the talks, the Russian side announced an alleged gesture of goodwill and the withdrawal of troops in Kyiv and Chernihiv. However, Russian forces are likely to regroup and replenish reserves after heavy blows from the Ukrainian Armed Forces in these regions. According to Ukrainian and British intelligence, part of the occupying forces will be redeployed to Donbas with a purpose of defeating the the Joint Forces Operation troops in the east of the country.

The bombing of Ukrainian cities continues and will not stop in the near future. Negotiations between the two countries will also continue. According to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he understands the risks of a possible agreement with Russia, the points of which will address issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity.[5] Therefore, the final proposals of Ukraine in the future may have a different form, spelled out in more detail, indicating certain mechanisms that would differ in nature from the paper guarantees of the "Budapest Memorandum". The final peace agreement will be signed with Russia, which is currently not ready for any compromises. Therefore, the content of the peace agreement is already being filled today, first of all with the successes of the Armed Forces, the pressure of the partner countries on Russia and the support of Ukraine with offensive weapons.


1. Я готовий піти на все, якщо моя хода буде з нашим народом — інтерв’ю Зеленського, 21.03.2022,

2. Переговори Росії та України у Стамбулі. Що там робить Олександр Чалий?, Олексій Гарань, 29.03.2022,

3. Ні миру, ні гарантій. Деталі та наслідки переговорів України та РФ у Стамбулі, 30.03.2022,

4. Фіни не пишаються «фінляндизацією» і не бажають її Україні, Богдан Цюпин, 09.02.2022,

5. "Не бачимо підстав для довіри". Зеленський про переговори з Росією, 29.03.2022,