Kristi Raik on Vilnius: Messages to Ukraine must avoid previous vagueness

Kristi Raik on 'Ukraina stuudio', July 11, 2023.
Kristi Raik on 'Ukraina stuudio', July 11, 2023. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Much debate about what message to give to Ukraine at this week's Vilnius Summit went went on, foreign policy analyst Kristi Raik says.

Ukraine awaits an invitation to start a NATO accession process, not least that the mistake of the vague messages which followed the 2008 Bucharest Summit should not be repeated.

Raik gave an interview to ETV's "Ukraina stuudio" Monday, which follows in its entirety.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy's travel schedule has been hectic this past week, ahead of the NATO summit. Does he actually have any reason to go to Vilnius?

The fact that Zelenskyy has postponed his decision whether to go to Vilnius or not until the last moment, naturally demonstrates that there have been very tense discussions between NATO member states about what leeway Ukraine will have in Vilnius.

It is comprehensible to all that this decision will be of historical importance. Expectations are running high, but Ukraine has no hope of achieving precisely what it would have wanted, and what Ukraine's supporters on NATO's eastern wing have wanted too, i.e. for Ukraine to be invited to join NATO as early as this Tuesday, in Vilnius, on the understanding that this is only after hostilities have stopped. 

In this aspect, there is consensus in NATO. But Ukraine's own desire has been that the invitation be already presented. However, the U.S., Germany and some other NATO countries have been taking a more cautious approach. So most likely, the outcome will be less.

What does this more cautious stance actually equate to? As early as the Bucharest summit 15 years ago, a clear message was given that Ukraine would become a member of NATO (Georgia was also in the picture-ed.). Now, the question is how to pave the way to this journey, so to speak. What room for maneuver is there in formulating this now, and where do the camps diverge?

Yes, indeed, that common ground has been there all along. In fact, NATO already took the position 15 years ago that Ukraine was to become a NATO member.  Also in this regard, there was a consensus that this could only happen when any hostilities were over. 

As to when and how it is possible for Ukraine to attain membership, however, there is a multiplicity of views, and they still reflect deeper disagreements or different assessments of how the future course of the war is viewed, how the potential outcome of the war is viewed, and what NATO's relations with Ukraine might evolve into.

It can certainly be observed that through the course of this war, the U.S. has been cautious in its actions so as not to escalate the conflict and not to provoke Russia unduly, as it were. 

It is in this arena that NATO countries definitely have widely differing views on what constitutes provocation towards Russia: Is the case that when NATO takes a cautious, weaker position, this is done in the hope that it will not provoke Russia, or is that in itself provocative – by NATO showing weakness, not daring to make a clear decision. Russia may interpret this as hopeful signs that it still pays to keep attempting to get Ukraine under its control.

What is on the discussion table now anyway? Are we talking here about any specific dates when we can say that Ukraine would be ready to join the alliance? Are we talking about some kind of interpretation of the accession framework? 

"Membership action plan" is one such expression that has been leaned on a lot again in recent weeks. What is this issue of "conditioning," which is said to be being finalized at the highest level, ie. at that of heads of government, and heads of state, until the last moment?

There has been much debate about the precise wording. Everyone understands that NATO now needs to offer Ukraine something more than it did in Bucharest back in 2008, that that mistake must not be repeated – one where such a vague message is given, which then encourages Russia to behave more aggressively. 

However, if the U.S. is still not ready to present the invitation to join, then there must be a middle way. And it is the wording of this which is being sought.

At the same time, they surely want to telegraph the message that NATO is ready to provide long-term military support to Ukraine, come what may.

This would not be directly from NATO as an organization, but from NATO member states. This obligation has been repeated over and over again, and it is certainly also the desire that Ukraine's accession to NATO is still demonstrably a real goal, with some new steps to be taken in this direction. 

Probably, an agreement or confirmation that Ukraine does not need the so-called map or action plan for joining, which, for example, Estonia completed before joining NATO, and this will theoretically speeds up the process of becoming a member.

This summit has been under preparation for months, and indeed the Ukrainian aspect is still being finalized, but how much could what we saw in Russia, last month's attempted coup by Prigozhin, affect how Russia and Putin are perceived in general? Has this increased Berlin's willingness to promise more to Ukraine or, on the contrary, made Germany, which has been one of the brakes on the process, even more cautious?

It cannot be argued that this would have significantly changed the position of either the U.S. or Germany regarding Ukraine joining NATO. 

Putin has come to be seen as weaker, but even this in turn causes concern in the U.S. Instability in Russia also creates risks that the U.S. wants to avoid. In any case, one very important bone of contention is how realistic is it that Ukraine will be able to liberate its occupied territories in the near future.

If it is the case that, for example, Ukraine has not been able to do this by the end of this year, and quite a few Western experts think that this is a likely scenario, there is also a risk that the process of joining NATO will be delayed further.

Next, we will arrive at the disputes on such topics as whether Ukraine can theoretically join NATO at any point, even in a situation where Russia may still occupy some part of Ukraine's territory. For example, the Cold War model of West Germany has been discussed, where West Germany joined NATO and the EU (one of the forerunners to the EU, the ECSC, which morphed into the European Community-ed.), even as East Germany was in effect under Soviet control.

Last week, information concerning unofficial peace talks between the U.S. and Russia also reached the media. These are not being held at national level, but by various professional diplomats, analysts like you. Some of these are looking for areas where peace might come. What do such discussions reveal? Is this actually a normal process or does it still remain in the air that there are attempts being made to decide something behind Ukraine's back?

It has to be stressed that these were informal talks, while at the same time, it is significant that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took, giving the meeting more weight. 

In that respect, it does not surprise me that such discussions have been held. Within the circle of U.S. security experts, there have been constant discussions on different scenarios, while a school of thought - which believes that we will now support Ukraine for a while longer in the hopes that they will achieve more success on the battlefield, after which we will have to sit down at the negotiating table – has been growing.

Then, of course, there is another school of thought, one which emphasizes that all such discussions are premature, and that one should first ask the Ukrainians themselves when they are ready to negotiate. 

It is certainly in the interest of both Ukraine and the Western countries to continue to stick to this goal, so that Ukraine can liberate all occupied territories, and to provide as much support as possible. 

But the other camp, which has a more pessimistic attitude, actually often finds that it is not necessary to provide so much military aid to Ukraine, since they will not be able to liberate all the occupied territories in any case. 

These discussions are thus constantly taking place among the Western circle of experts, and there are also those who are ready to discuss with Russian experts, which, naturally, is very dubious in the current situation.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

Source: 'Ukraina stuudio', interviewer Johannes Tralla

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: