Ülo Mattheus: Ukraine's free fall and rise

Ülo Mattheus.
Ülo Mattheus. Source: Ave Maria Mõistlik/Wikimedia Commons

Compared to Emmanuel Macron's virtually hopeless idea for a European army, an alliance between the Baltic and Black seas looks far more promising, Ülo Mattheus writes in a comment originally published in Sirp magazine, adding that Ukraine has entered the big picture for good.

The ongoing war highlights the importance of Ukraine's role as a buffer between aggressive Russia and the rest of Europe. Provided that Ukraine will win the war and restore its territorial integrity, it will soon prove necessary to answer the question of how to integrate that buffer into the global security system.

Ukraine and NATO

Ukraine's road to the global security system has not been straight and narrow. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy blocked Ukraine's NATO entry at the alliance's Bucharest summit in April of 2008.

British PM Gordon Brown agreed at the time, this despite strong support from the U.S. and President George Bush for giving Ukraine a NATO membership roadmap. The U.S. position was that any and all opposition to NATO expansion constitutes a victory for Russia, while Germany and France believed it would have provoked Russia and threatened the security status quo.

History tells us that the Americans were right as the destructive war today is a result of keeping Ukraine out of NATO. That is precisely what Russia was preparing for already back in 2008, as well as why it needed to put pressure on the West to block Ukraine's accession.

Simply put, Putin outmaneuvered Merkel and Sarkozy. The deception also included Russia's withdrawal from Georgia after a brief war in August of 2008, with active mediation from Sarkozy. The way it looks today is that the withdrawal constituted a ploy in service of a larger goal – Ukraine. Cutting South Ossetia off from Georgia was an added bonus.

As one might recall, no final decision was made on Ukraine and Georgia at the Bucharest summit. Instead, it was postponed until the NATO foreign ministerial in December of that year, which is where the refusal was formalized.

The war in Georgia fits snugly between those two major NATO meetings. Ukraine and Georgia came under friendly fire and suffered as a result of being left out of NATO. While the alliance remains a key choice for the latter, Georgia has already turned its countenance back toward Russia.

Any alternatives?

Because NATO has not opened the door to Ukraine to this day, the country has separately raised the security guarantees question. Ukrainian military expert Oleh Zhdanov has talked about an alliance that, with the inclusion of Poland and the Baltics, would form a shared security space stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Basically, it would control all trade routes between Europe and Russia. Zhdanov said that the initiative for such an alliance would come from the UK.

Compared to Emmanuel Macron's virtually hopeless idea for a European army, an alliance between the Baltic and Black seas looks far more promising as such an alliance could completely isolate Russia from the rest of Europe. It would play a crucial role in the entire region's geopolitical and economic development.

Because all said countries are also NATO members, the necessity of a new alliance remains questionable. The sensible thing to do would be to accept Ukraine into NATO. The search for new guarantees could be seen as part of Ukrainian diplomacy aimed at opening the NATO door for Ukraine eventually. Considering its geographical location and growing military power, this would add to European security as a whole.

Both Poland and Lithuania, as targets of near-constant threats, but also Moldova could feel much better next to such an ally. Ukraine is blocking Russian units in Transnistria who have no access to the motherland to complement their ranks and equipment for seizing Moldova. Ukraine has virtually vowed to disarm the troops in Transnistria as they constitute a threat to its security.

Ukraine and the European Union

Moving on to Ukraine's request to join the European Union, France and Germany continue to be the weakest links.

President of France Emmanuel Macron has openly questioned Ukraine's accession and continues to cozy up to Putin, while Germany has not given up Russian energy that works to finance its war, not to mention the maneuvering of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder.

Messages from said politicians for the sides to cease hostilities and agree on something in a situation where a part of Ukraine remains occupied and Russia is committing war crimes there are also utterly incomprehensible. Is the aim for Ukraine to surrender a part of its territory and ignore war crimes?

Making concessions to Russia and a new Minsk II-style agreement would surely see Russia start a new war after a period. Therefore, expelling Russian troops from Ukraine remains the only solution today. It is very unlikely they will leave voluntarily or as a result of some sort of an agreement.

It is not difficult to understand the motives of Germany and France. Ukraine's EU accession would make it the largest member state and considerably boost Eastern European and Balkans influence. It would mean a very different policy from what Germany and France have so far pursued.

It would mean a different Europe than what the founders of the Coal and Steel Community of 1951 had in mind. Back then, it was a Western European union made up only of France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy. The community transforming into the European Union and the involvement of former so-called Eastern European states considerably changed the geopolitical lines of force.

Developments got to a point where France decided to block the EU accession of Macedonia and Albania in 2019 and change the way we think about EU development. The same position has surfaced now in connection with Ukraine.

In hindsight, the departure of the UK from the EU, that has long since morphed into something quite different from the economic union the Brits joined in 1973, also shines in a new light. Brussels' dictate and the outlook of forever remaining an EU budget net contributor was too much for them.

Brexit could also be seen as reluctance to fight with Germany and France over who gets to dictate European policy and pick up the phone when the U.S. president calls. The Brits' imperial history is too grand to fight over something like that.

Boris Johnson's UK has become a global player next to USA, with an important role in shaping Black Sea security and boosting its influence by helping Ukraine, while Germany has painted itself into a corner with its Russian energy dependence and France is still frantically looking for a way to restore its former grandeur in global politics.

Ukraine in the UN Security Council?

Ambassador of Ukraine to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya has proposed expelling Russia from the UN Security Council as an aggressor and the main threat to security. He has raised the issue of whether Russia's place in the Security Council is even legal and of its formal accordance with the UN Charter article 23 of which lists the Soviet Union as a permanent member of the UNSC.

Therefore, the Soviet Union's disappearance from the world arena should have meant an end to its powers in the Security Council. From here, the question is whether Ukraine, as a former part of the Soviet Union, could be entitled to belong to the UNSC.

Perhaps these questions could be answered were the UN a democratic organization and the matter resolved by a democratic vote in the General Assembly. But, paradoxically enough, the UN is not a democratic organization.

Democratic organizations and countries usually have a collegial organ (parliament, assembly, general meeting) to make the most important decisions that also has the right to amend the organization's statutes.

In democracies, executive power is subjected to this collegial organ, while that is not the case in the United Nations. Important matters are decided by the 15-member UNSC, whereas the General Assembly can merely make recommendations. The five permanent members of the Security Council (China, USA, UK, France and the Soviet Union) can veto any UNSC resolution as the latter require support from all permanent members.

To change this, the Charter would need to be amended. This is virtually impossible in matters pertaining to the UNSC as it requires a two-thirds majority and support (once again!) from all five permanent members. Therefore, any attempt to throw out a member, such as Russia, would require their approval.

Ukraine, G7 and G20

Ukraine has risen to the top of the global political arena not just as a shaper of recent security policy but also as a key economic player.

This was evident in the May 8 virtual G7 meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the format's statement in support of Ukraine in which leaders (including Germany!) promise to help Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression in all possible ways and maintain sanctions against Russia.

Ukrainian grain exports make for one of the concerns of the G7. The former are crucial for staving off famine, and the G7 has promised to do everything it can to force Russia to ends its Black Sea blockade. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock referred to Russia's activity of blocking cereals exports as an element of hybrid warfare.

Russia used to take part in the meetings in the G8 format but was expelled after its occupation of Crimea in 2014.

The capacity of the G20 has also been called into question due to Russia's involvement. The recent meeting of finance ministers and heads of central banks in Washington D.C. on April 20 saw representatives of USA, Canada, UK and Ukraine storm out.

The same fate could be in store for the November G20 summit in Indonesia should Russia take part. The West has sharply protested the latter possibility. While President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been invited, it is unlikely he would be willing to attend with Putin.

The most important conclusion from all this is that Ukraine, not Russia, is expected to sit down with the big boys. It is equally important that no global problem can be solved with participation from Russia as long as the country is the one causing them.

All we can do is wonder at why some doors still remain open for Russia. Is it not time to equate Russia's status to that of North Korea or define it as pro-terror and sever ties?! Macron-style attempts to chat Putin up or Scholz's shifting between Ukraine and Russia only works to add to the confusion.

What is certain is that Ukraine has entered the big picture for good. And while some will surely continue to roll obstacles in its path, they will have to swallow their own tiny egos at the end of the day.

And there can be no doubt that the next Eurovision song contest will be held in Ukraine!


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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