Ukraine Needs a Treaty to Guarantee Neutrality, Because NATO is Not Coming to the Rescue

Photograph Source: Jennifer Boyer – CC BY 2.0

The torrent of words pouring out of governments and the media about Ukraine is masking the most puzzling aspect of the crisis. The West and its allies insist on keeping open the option of Ukraine joining Nato, a military alliance, while simultaneously declaring that they have no intention of defending Ukraine militarily in the event of a Russian invasion.

Much attention is given to President Putin’s motives, such as his supposed need to win success abroad to compensate for waning popularity at home. But the Russian establishment as a whole sees Ukraine as its greatest strategic interest and views its shift to a pro-western stance in 2014 as its worst setback since the fall of the Soviet Union. If Putin dropped dead tomorrow this stance would not change.

I am not arguing that Russia has any imperial right to quash Ukrainian self-determination, but the confrontation should be viewed realistically and Ukrainians should not be lured into imagining that any Nato cavalry will be riding to their rescue.

America, Britain and other Nato states are largely waging a fierce war of words against the Kremlin in a bid to deter Russia from invading Ukraine or extracting concessions from it. But it would be dangerous if anybody took this rhetoric at face value or were too impressed by Boris Johnson’s government springing to their defence.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).