Volodymyr Zelensky’s senior aide spells out Ukraine’s security requirements

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Cast-iron security guarantees from the world’s strongest armies are the only way to ensure that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the latest act of Russian aggression westward, said Igor Zhovkva, deputy chief from the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

At an online event organized by the French Institute for International Relations and the Ukrainian Center for New Europe, Zhovkva said any agreement to end the war with Russia must provide long-term protection for kyiv and its European partners.

“We will definitely win, and we will definitely defeat the aggressor this time,” Zhovkva said. “But if the aggression happens again, we have to prepare for it. That’s why my president is asking for security guarantees, as part of a possible agreement with Russia.”

Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armored military vehicle in the city of Severodonetsk in the Donbas region on April 7, 2022.
FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainians are acutely aware of how so-called security guarantees can bend under pressure. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum – an agreement in which the US, UK and Russia all gave security guarantees in exchange for kyiv giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons – s has proven powerless in the face of Russian aggression since 2014.

But the memorandum offered no guarantees, only assurances. The document included no legal obligation for military support, and its only mechanism for responding to aggression was the ability to convene consultations. Ukraine has repeatedly called for consultations in accordance with the memorandum, but without success.

“We don’t want this kind of memorandum,” Zhovkva said on Friday. “It was not a legally binding document…

“This time, we want the countries that will join this document to not only sign it, but ratify it in their parliaments and put it into effect. And we want this document to be as effective a working mechanism as possible.

“You cannot leave a central European country undefended. Or you can, but you will feel the implications.”

He added: “If the world is not ready to give those security guarantees, okay, that’s the position of the world. But the implications could be much worse than even now.”

Zelensky has all but abandoned Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO, although his commitment to pursue membership is still stipulated in the country’s constitution. Instead of NATO status, Zelensky wants Ukrainian security to be guaranteed by major nations which could include the US, UK, France, Germany, Turkey and others.

Germany and France have expressed their willingness to provide security guarantees. The US, UK and Turkey have so far refused to publicly commit to such a future deal.

Ask by Newsweek What the Ukrainians want the deal to include, Zhovkva said kyiv needs commitments of military aid and concrete steps to deal with any further Russian aggression.

“Now, when Ukraine is at war, we have to ask for weapons, or close the skies, or provide additional weapons to defend our skies,” Zhovkva said, explaining that with guarantees, kyiv will be able to anticipate these problems. .

“We have to understand a chain of events, the chain of command – if you will – of how Ukraine will be protected if aggression begins.

“How will the sky be closed, what weapons will Ukraine have beforehand to defend itself. We do not need boots on the ground.

“Russia should understand that Ukraine is not left alone. They will think: ‘Okay, today they didn’t help defend Ukraine. Tomorrow it could happen with the Baltic States, the day after tomorrow with Poland”.

“It is very important for all of us to have this strict mechanism, this tough mechanism, this legally binding treaty, in order to establish – if you will – a new security system in Europe.”

It is unclear whether the ongoing talks between Ukraine and Russia are substantive or a smokescreen behind which Moscow still hopes to secure a decisive victory. The initial phase of the invasion of Moscow failed to capture kyiv and behead the Ukrainian leadership.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are now preparing for a new offensive in the eastern region of Donbass, the scale and style of which, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, will be reminiscent of World War II.

Meanwhile, much of Ukraine’s coastline remains in Russian hands. Ukrainian forces have retaken significant territory in recent counterattacks, but Russia has established a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula and Donbass.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that they will not grant any territorial concessions, but if Ukrainian troops cannot retake this territory, Moscow still has leverage. The Kremlin could even settle for a return to frozen conflict by creating puppet states in occupied regions, as it did in Donbass.

Security guarantees and EU membership, Zhovkva said, will cement Ukraine as a European nation. Kyiv has repeatedly demanded that its EU bid be fast-tracked, which EU leaders have said is impossible. The process of joining the bloc can take many years.

Zhovkva acknowledged that the EU was moving quickly by its standards, but not fast enough. “It’s cosmic speed for the EU, but it’s real snail speed for my country,” he said.

“Show a little more courage, show a little more political will,” Zhovkva said, addressing Ukraine’s Western partners. EU sanctions to date, he said, have been “too little, too slow and nowhere near enough”.

Oil and gas embargoes, he said, must come next.

“It’s far from the end,” Zhovkva said. For Russia, he added, “it’s a problem that the Ukrainian nation is this independent nation, it’s a problem that Ukrainians want to be part of the European family, rather than the Russian world.”

“It doesn’t even depend on who is in power,” Zhovkva said. “The only thing that can change that is to bring Ukraine closer to Europe, if they understand once and for all that they cannot disconnect Ukraine from the European family.”

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