WASHINGTON — European governments are expected to discuss their part in security guarantees that could be promised to Ukraine under a potential peace deal following Russia’s increasingly brutal attack on the country, according to a senior European Union official.
The comments come as talks between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators last week teed up the question of alternative assurances — outside of NATO’s Article 5 mutual-assistance clause — the West is willing to underwrite after Moscow stops its assault.
“As soon as the war is over — or perhaps, in connection with the cessation of hostilities — we need to think what kind of guarantees will be offered to Ukraine,” said Charles Fries, the deputy secretary-general for common security and defense policy and crisis response at the European External Action Service. He was speaking April 4 at an event in Washington organized by the Atlantic Council think tank.
Fries described the sweet spot of security guarantees as being “something between more than Budapest, but, of course, less than Article 5,” referring to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, a now-obsolete treaty crafted to guarantee Ukraine’s security after Kyiv gave up its nuclear weapons per the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“So that’s a question for the next weeks, which has to be addressed,” Fries said.
“It’s a key issue, but the EU as such is not directly involved,” he said. Rather, select nations might take action individually, Fries added, noting that he hadn’t seen a list of who might come forward.
The Budapest Memorandum’s original signatories include the United States and the United Kingdom on the Western side, as well as Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Last week, Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, said her government envisions a security-guarantees regime endorsed by Budapest Memorandum signatories as well as the United Nations Security Council.
“We have already confirmed agreement on that from Great Britain, from Germany and from Turkey,” Stefanishyna said during a March 31 online event sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States think tank. She was speaking from Kyiv.
Sean Monaghan, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the legal format of whatever security guarantees the West can muster for Ukraine will be ultimately secondary. More important, and difficult, he told Defense News, will be the willingness of European populations to back them by military force.
“The power and commitment of NATO Article 5 has had time to grow for more than 70 years,” Monaghan said. “With Ukraine, that would have to happen overnight.”
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government has drawn a red line around the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in whatever post-war negotiations may bring, Stefanishyna said. Kyiv also would not support an agreement aimed at whitewashing Russian war crimes during the invasion, she added.
As Ukrainian officials come to terms with NATO benefits being off the table, they are doubling down on the European Union and a potential fast-tracked membership plan.
Stefanishyna hopes that by year’s end the European Commission will publish its assessment of whether Ukraine is an eligible candidate, per the so-called Copenhagen criteria. Those criteria prescribe examining aspiring members’ state of democracy, rule of law, human rights and monetary and economic fitness.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.