Raimond Kaljulaid: Vilnius shows West's faith in Ukraine victory not strong

Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE).
Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The decision made at the NATO Vilnius summit not to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance can be interpreted in several ways, writes Social Democratic Party (SDE) MP Raimond Kaljulaid.

Right now, we don't really know why this decision was made, Kaljulaid continues. Even those who participated in Estonia's preparations for the summit or who were even at the table, cannot not see the entire picture.

One version or another of what transpired will appear in a few years' time, after the first books and journalistic studies about this period have been published, as well as the personal recollections of the leading players.

Leading politicians in the U.S., Germany, France and the U.K. will also release their versions of events, but only after leaving office.

When it comes to the stances of politicians, one must bear in mind their desire to demonstrate their contribution in the picture of history best possible light. In Estonia, the first self-justifying "revelations" have already been coolly leaked, to friendly journalists. 

As things currently are, these are trying to form the opinion that everything could have fared even worse than it did. But I think that is inappropriate. One has to be honest with one's people. One must speak frankly of one's good and bad deeds, to refer to Alexander Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin".

Whoever wants a more objective "truth" to be written by professional historians, however, will likely have to wait decades. It will be a very long time before the White House archives and those of its Security Council are opened up, and the notes, transcripts and other materials of the talks and meetings involving the British Prime Minister's Office, the German Chancellor and the French President, can be made available. It cannot be ruled out that some part of this historical truth is stored on the other side of the "Iron Curtain", too, in Moscow, and also in Beijing.

In the here and now, however, we are left with hypotheses that cannot be falsified. My interpretation is based on an assumption that decisions were significantly influenced by how the leaders of the bigger Western countries see the end of the war in Ukraine panning out, and their national interests in this light.

All wars come to an end eventually. The war in Ukraine will also finish one day. But how? How are wars concluded in any case? The first option is that one of the two combatant nations will emerge victories, ie. either Ukraine or Russia.

In the case of Ukraine, the definition of victory would be the liberation of the entire territory within the internationally recognized borders as they were in 1991 (ie. including Crimea and the Donbas area-ed.). 

Russia, on the other hand,, has formulated its victory criteria much more vaguely (in terms of "denazification," "demilitarization," etc.).

Alternatively, a peace treaty can be concluded between Ukraine and Russia whereby the circumstances that led to the war will be resolved in a way that is amenable to both sides. This outcome is, however, highly unlikely.

A third option is that active hostilities are ended via an agreement, but one which does not actually resolve differences, while enabling the guns to fall silent. An armistice, where the major issues which led to the disagreements remain largely or completely unresolved., simply that the solition is no longer sought by force of arms.

In Ukraine's case this would most likely mean that part of its territory would remain occupied by Russia. Russia would not give up its demands on the territories formally annexed during the current war, nor would it recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine.

 In turn, Ukraine would not forfeit its demands that its territory should be returned to it, with damages compensated for and those who committed war crimes being held accountable. 

Somewhere along the frontier would run a temporary "line of control," which would heavily militarized on both sides. This would also mean that the danger that war may break out again at any moment would remain present.

There is also a fourth outcome, that the war will expand into a wider conflict, into which other countries would also be drawn. In the worst case of all scenarios it would turn into a nuclear war and a standoff between NATO and Russia. 

Avoiding the latter outcome has been, and continues to be, one of the main goals of the U.S. several other countries, as representatives of the Joe Biden administration have repeatedly stated publicly. 

The U.S. is not ready to intervene in the war in Ukraine or to send its troops to Ukraine. The U.S. wants to avoid war with Russia at all costs.

In my opinion, the decision made at Vilnius reveals the way in which some Western countries see the war ending, while it is significantly different from their public rhetoric. 

Ukrainian victory and achievement of its goals in the coming years is not seen as feasible; some kind of agreement is still considered realistic. 

The question is instead how and when this will be achieved. Were I a betting man, I would suggest that the U.S. in particular is actively working in this direction. 

There have been no official talks between the U.S. and Russia, but in actuality, some kind of solution is being sought, and at various levels.

China is certainly involved in this process. It is important, too, for European leaders, especially the President of France, as well as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to demonstrate that they are also important stakeholders.

Next year's U.S. Presidential election also concentrates minds into a fixed time frame. Simply put, Biden needs to "fix" the Ukraine issue by then, or it will be turned against him; this in turn could hand the keys to the White House to Donald Trump for a second time. 

It seems also that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, plus several other European leaders, also feel that their own electorates expect a solution and results, not necessarily a solution which is perfect from a Ukrainian perspective.

When viewed from Washington, it is clear that the corollary of making a firm promise to Ukraine regarding NATO membership would have made reaching an agreement with the Russians many times more difficult, if not impossible.

If Biden clearly promised to include Ukraine in NATO, then there would be nothing to stop Putin awaiting the return of Trump, who might come along and announce that NATO is now superfluous to requirements and the U.S. is not going to go to war just for any old European parasitical state – let's see how they can manage by themselves.

That may of course be Vladimir Putin's plan, regardless of how Biden acts.

I stress once again that the above is my own personal hypothesis, which I cannot prove or disprove. I cannot read Western leaders' minds. But this is precisely how the whole thing looked in Vilnius.

Raimond Kaljulaid sits on the Riigikogu's National Defense Committee, and heads up Estonia's delegation to the NATO parliamentary assembly.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kaupo Meiel

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