Peace – when it finally comes to Ukraine – will have to be a grand European settlement that must be accepted by Russia to end a decade of strife, Nato’s former spokesman has said.
Dr Jamie Shea also told The National that Moscow would have to concede that some Nato troops will be based in Ukraine for the accord to work.
Nato’s former deputy assistant secretary general is among a number of leading figures arguing for Ukraine to be fast-tracked into the alliance as soon as the war ends.
Next week the western powers will meet in Vilnius, Lithuania, for one of the most significant summits in decades where its leaders plan to strengthen the Eastern Flank, enforce higher defence spending and discuss Ukraine’s membership.
Another key issue, Dr Shea said, was for the alliance to become “fit for fighting” because the increased Russian threat meant that “the currency has moved from simply showing up, to being able to show up and fight and win which is a big, big qualitative leap forward”.
Dr Shea, who left Nato after 38 years’ service in 2018, also contended that Poland was becoming the “land superpower” in Europe with huge investment in tanks and personnel.
'Fast track Kyiv'
A key motivation behind President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was believed to be to prevent further Nato expansion.
Not only have Russia’s actions united the alliance but Finland has joined, with Sweden soon to follow, and now Ukraine is likely to become yet another partner.
Just how quickly the country will join will be discussed at length in Vilnius.
“President Zelenskyy is looking for a promise that as soon as the war is over, Ukraine will be admitted into Nato, number one,” said Dr Shea. “Number two, he's looking for an assurance that Ukraine will not have to go through the Membership Action Plan.”
The MAP is an arduous process that requires undertakings, many of which Ukraine fulfils by default having adopted many Nato standards in training and equipment.
The Ukrainians have apparently accepted that membership cannot come while they are still at war as that would draw the alliance into activating its Article Five protocol, the collective defence guarantee.
“That would commit Nato immediately to go to war with Russia,” said Dr Shea. “But once the war is over, Nato will go fast on Ukraine membership.”
Another clear message being sent to Russia is the growing strength of the Polish army, which will double its size to 300,000 troops
Warsaw’s desire to build the most powerful army in Nato has also been reflected in the purchase of 1,000 modern tanks and 600 artillery pieces.
“Poland is now emerging as the land superpower in central and Eastern Europe,” said Dr Shea. “It has received its first batch of M1 Abram tanks and by spending almost 4 per cent of GDP on defence it’s going to have more tanks than the UK, Germany, Italy and France combined.”
With Germany showing its resolve by committing a brigade of 4,000 troops to Lithuania it was an “obvious logic is to build the land defence around Germany and Poland working together”.
A key point of debate in Vilnius, led by newly reappointed Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, will be over America agreeing to a security guarantee to send in its troops into Ukraine in the 12 months or so it will take to formalise Nato membership.
“If Ukraine is not let into Nato right away and if it’s going to make peace with Russia then it needs a guarantee that it will be defended,” said Mr Shea.
This would be very different from the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 that gave some security assurances but once Russia invaded in 2014 proved “it wasn't worth what it was written on”.
The question was how far America, who was one of the Budapest signatories, would go in giving a guarantee, said the academic.
“Are the Americans going to station troops in Ukraine once the war is over? Will the French, German and British do the same? Or it could be a promise to keep boosting the Ukrainian army after the war, but without putting American F-35s yet in Ukraine itself?” he said. “The security guarantees are a bridge to Nato membership but not an alternative.”
The Ukrainians also wanted an assurance that the guarantees are a pathway to Nato membership but that the alliance is “not going to abandon Ukraine and the weapons will continue to flow”.
“They want Nato to say we are in it for as long as it takes and there are no signs that the allies are starting to look for sort of chunky compromises with Russia.”
In return, Nato will want guarantees that Ukraine does not return to the corruption and oligarchs present before the 2022 invasion.
Winning the peace
While Ukraine might get the guarantees it wants this could potentially extend the conflict as Russia would see Kyiv’s rapid Nato accession as a major threat to its boarders.
“The more Nato makes these pledges, the harder it might be to persuade Putin to end the war, because it's clear to Russia that ending the war means American troops on the Russian border,” said Dr Shea.
Having survived the Yevgeny Prigozhin rebellion, Mr Putin would now have “every reason to say, I started this war it to drive the West back, not have the West come closer to me.”
Ukraine will clearly have to take a sizeable amount of its territory in the current counter-offensive to force any concessions in order to make a lasting peace.
“This cannot just be a Ukrainian peace settlement, but a Pan-European peace settlement with Russia that will hold,” said Mr Shea, 69. “It wouldn't necessarily be a friendly one but it would be one that the Russians will be committed to respecting as well as Nato.”
It cannot be an agreement that leads again to a “frozen conflict’ like that established in Donbas in 2014 in which “Putin is going to wait five years then give it another go”.
Given that a lasting settlement will need to be agreed by Russia, anything other than a light Nato presence in Ukraine will probably be unacceptable.
Countries such as Britain, which has been one of Kyiv’s biggest backers, could have an infantry battalion that would, along with other allies, act as a tripwire to enacting Article Five if Russia invaded a third time.
“Those forces would be able to move into Ukraine, but you would keep it pretty light,” said Dr Shea, president of the Centre for War Studies, University for Southern Denmark. “My sense is probably that's where Nato comes out initially, because we want to calm things down with Russia.”
At the Madrid summit last year, Nato agreed to collectively keep 100,000 troops ready to deploy in less than ten days and a further 200,000 on a month’s readiness. The Vilnius summit will declare whether this has been achieved.
View from Middle East
While Nato’s international reputation has been enhanced by its united response to Ukraine it has still taken a knock following the calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
For the wider global audience this appear to suggest that “Nato was retreating from responsibilities beyond collective defence” which has allowed both Russian and Chinese influence to expand.
“The Middle East sees the West putting all its effort into Ukraine but not really being there when it's a question of ‘our problems’” said Dr Shea. Washington had also shown little commitment to the Middle East peace process.
“I'm afraid Nato is linked to this general loss of Western influence in the region. It's not that the Americans or Nato are powerless but the field is much more open than in the past for others to yield their influence,” he said. “The way in which China has brokered a normalisation of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a case in point.”