Nato must help wind down this war – and stop stringing Ukraine along


Rajan Menon April 13

Nato was never serious about admitting Ukraine. The Russian invasion has lowered Ukraine’s chances even further.

Amid the debate over the war in Ukraine, there’s widespread agreement on one point: the carnage and destruction will continue – not just for weeks, but for months or, according to some western officials, years or even decades.

Eventually, however, this war, like all others, will conclude, but not before Russia or Ukraine, perhaps both, become convinced that the losses – in blood and treasure – are unbearable and success beyond reach.

Perhaps Vladimir Putin calculates that Ukrainians’ desire to end their suffering will force them to accept peace on his terms and that if they haven’t yet it’s because he hasn’t pounded their towns and cities enough.

But the pain could just as well increase Ukrainians’ determination to keep fighting. Countries have endured horrific hardships in wartime. Putin surely understands this. Like all Russians, he learned as a schoolboy about the sacrifices Soviet civilians and soldiers made during “the great patriotic war”.

Before the invasion, he may have believed that Ukrainians lacked that sort of mettle. By now he must know that their tenacity has not eroded and that news of widespread Russian atrocities – in Bucha, Trostyanets and elsewhere – has in fact increased it.

Although Ukrainians’ morale could dissipate if significant military defeats make it impossible, or futile, for their army to continue fighting, that has not happened yet. Despite the Russian army’s overwhelming superiority in troops and firepower, Ukraine has inflicted substantial losses. Thousands of Russian troops have been killed and numerous tanks and armored vehicles destroyed. Russian commanders have been forced to abandon the northern offensive aimed at Kyiv.

Moreover, because continuing western military aid provides Ukraine’s army the means to keep fighting, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy isn’t under pressure to accept a deal that concedes large swathes of Ukraine’s south and east to Russia.

Putin seems confident that something that can be packaged and sold as victory remains feasible

And Putin, despite his army’s lackluster performance and the bite of western sanctions, shows no signs of giving up. He seems confident that something that can be packaged and sold as victory remains feasible and that the military setbacks can be overcome. He may be wrong, but don’t count him out just yet.

Though we can’t know which side will decide that it cannot continue fighting or when it will reach that conclusion, we are in a better position to anticipate the agenda of a diplomatic endgame and the obstacles to a political settlement.

Unless it faces imminent defeat, Ukraine will reject any agreement that does not require Russia to abandon all the territories it has occupied since 24 February. Having endured hell, Ukrainians will denounce as capitulation any deal that does not include that provision unless it is necessary for their country’s survival.

The problem is that Putin will insist on terms that enable him to demonstrate to Russians that a war he depicted as essential to safeguarding their country’s security was worth it. Coming home empty-handed will damage his political standing and, barring a turn in the war that’s disastrous for Russia, his calculations won’t change.

Then there’s the matter of Ukraine’s postwar status.

Before the war, there were proposals for a lengthy moratorium on Ukraine’s membership in Nato, even Ukrainian neutrality. But Russia showed no interest in the former, and Ukraine rejected the latter on various grounds.

Nato supported Kyiv’s stance. In the weeks preceding Russia’s invasion, Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, stated, repeatedly, that the decision Nato made at its 2008 Bucharest summit to welcome Ukraine was irrevocable. What he didn’t explain was why Ukrainians were kept waiting for nearly 14 years, angering Russia but leaving Ukraine unprotected at the time of its greatest peril.

Because both Ukraine and Nato rejected neutrality, we can’t know whether it would have averted Russia’s invasion. Putin had other demands, but they concerned Nato’s eastern front. What he wanted from Ukraine was a binding renunciation of the Atlantic Alliance.

Kyiv insists its neutrality must be guaranteed by countries that commit to defend it from attack

Ukrainians have now learned a bitter truth: Nato wasn’t serious about admitting them; its members were too divided to muster the necessary 30-0 vote. Furthermore, rather than having improved Ukraine’s chances for membership, Russia’s invasion may have diminished them.

Zelenskiy’s coming to terms with these realities may explain his reconsideration of neutrality. Kyiv has discussed the idea in talks with Moscow but insists that its neutrality must be guaranteed by countries that commit, through a formal agreement, to defend it from attack, including through military intervention.

The guarantors mentioned by Ukrainian officials include Nato members: the United States (no surprise there), Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Poland. Their responses have been vague at best. None has declared its willingness to assume the responsibility, and the Britishhave already rejected any pledge resembling Article V of the Nato treaty. Yet having been invaded by Russia, Kyiv won’t embrace neutrality unless it includes an ironclad insurance policy.

A political settlement also depends on Nato’s objectives. Will the alliance specify the conditions Russia must fulfill before sanctions can be lifted and agree to lift them, even if in stages, once Moscow delivers? Or will it refuse to clarify terms and timelines? Does Nato seek Russia’s withdrawal from Ukrainian territories occupied after 24 February or to maintain the sanctions indefinitely in order to diminish Russia’s power, and perhaps even precipitate “regime change”? Short of outright military defeat, which is hard to imagine, Russia won’t give something in exchange for nothing.

Nato seems divided on these questions. Some members, most likely Poland and the Baltic states, want Ukraine to resist compromisesbecause it is fighting for Europe’s security, not merely its own. But if Nato seizes the war as an opportunity to deliver body blows to Russia it will surely prolong it and increase the number of Ukrainian deaths.

Plus, the longer the war continues, the greater the risk that it could spread beyond Ukraine and lead to a clash between Nato and Russia – one in which nuclear weapons could be used.

It is within Putin’s power to wind down this war, but what Nato does matters as well.

  • Rajan Menon is the director of the grand strategy program at Defense Priorities and senior research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University


  1. History will show that the despicable behaviour of Nato caused this war, with the active collusion of France and Germany. Nato led by a Marxist is as useful as a fart in a spacesuit and France and Germany always act as sneaky, treacherous enablers of Russia, whilst weeping crocodile tears for Ukraine. Total scum, in other words.

  2. FB site Ukraine UA is in Mariupol:

    “An unbearable pain, deeply hurting fears, a long-term trauma – these words are still not enough to describe those nightmares, which people meet every day in Mariupol. The local authorities reported up to 22 000 people dead since the Russians got to the city.”

    📸 @reuters @apnews


    Ukraine’s so-called friends have allowed the satanic putler regime to commit massive genocide in this once pleasant sea port.

    • Pleasant seaport… LOL. It is an industrial city, lots of chemical and other factories. The air-quality was poor eversince. During my last visit (2007) i did not even even dare to drink the tap water. But back to the subject, EIGHT YEARS LONG UKRAINE WAS BEGGING FOR ARMS, WARSHIPS ETC., UKRAINE GOT NOTHING. IF THEY DID THIS WAR WOULD NOT EXIST!

  3. NATO could be an efficient organization and most effective organization if its mechanization wasn’t slowed down and made to creak along due to less than useful members, in particular France, Germany and Hungary. It’s a big mystery as to why they are allowed to remain in the alliance. There is never a need to keep the weakest links in a system when the system’s strength is made to suffer.
    Without the bags of shit called Merkel and Sakozy, Ukraine could’ve become a member in 2008 and helped to build up its armed forces. It did so anyhow, and is now unquestionably the most powerful and well-run military on the continent, save perhaps the British. However, much more could be done to finally help the nations to cleanse itself from the scourge that came from the shithole in the east. Shame on those three trash countries I’ve already mentioned above and their despicable leaders.

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