Ukraine: the Opposing Reasons

If Ukraine (not to mention Georgia) were in NATO today, we would probably already be at war, according to art. 5 of the Atlantic Pact.

In foreign policy it is essential to understand the "reasons of the other". And in the Ukrainian crisis the reasons for the other - that is, Moscow - are palpably evident. Ukraine is the medieval cradle of the Rus' people; it is there that the Russian nation was born; there is no natural border separating the two states, united by the same culture, the same religion and a sister language. Dostoevsky rightly called the Ukrainian Gogol the father of Russian literature.

With these assumptions, how can we believe that after the collapse of the Soviet empire, Moscow would have accepted the expansion of the Atlantic Alliance to the point of affecting Russia's "soft underbelly"? Besides, how far is Kiev from the Atlantic? How far from Moscow? Even a child would have understood it. But not the United States, perhaps because history and geography were not part of the political baggage of the then hegemonic power, blinded as it was by the triumph over communism.

Thus, the American - led NATO - once the states that once belonged to the Warsaw Pact had been incorporated - began to vellify the "soft underbelly" of Russia. In the final declaration of the NATO Summit in Bucharest, held in April 2008, the following sentence was inserted (paragraph 23): “NATO welcomes the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia to be part of it. Today we agreed that these two countries will become NATO members ”. It was President Bush who wanted to insert this demanding formula in the final text, against the resistance of almost all the other delegations. If Ukraine (not to mention Georgia) were in NATO today, we would probably already be at war: art. 5 of the Atlantic Pact, in fact, obliges us to militarily help each of its members attacked; and it would not be difficult to define the Russian offensive in Donbass and the annexation of Crimea as acts of aggression.

The 2008 Bucharest conference was much more than the usual annual NATO meeting. No less than 48 heads of state or government participated, including Putin, because the NATO-Russia Council and the meeting of the Partnership for Peace were also held on the sidelines of the NATO Council. It was in front of this audience - including the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon - that Putin was humbled by the invitation to Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO. This is why in the following August Moscow reacted harshly to the attempt of the reckless Georgian president, Saakashvili, to take back South Ossetia by force. .

The United States and NATO also reacted, arming Ukraine with defensive means (including Javelin anti-tank missiles) and sending a corps of military advisers. However, they admitted that in the event of a massive Russian offensive, the Ukrainian defense would collapse in a few hours. General Budanov himself, chief of military intelligence in Kiev, said: “We have to be objective. Without the intervention of Western forces, there would not be sufficient military resources to repel an all-out Russian attack. We can hold out as long as we have bullets. But believe me: without external reserves no army in the world would resist such an attack ”. In fact, it is enough to count the planes deployed by Russia not far from the border: they far exceed the 200 planes of Ukraine. Obviously Washington has ruled out intervening militarily: it has preferred to threaten Moscow with very heavy economic, financial and technological sanctions (which, however, would also affect European interests).

It is hoped that both of them have learned Thucydides' lesson. During the Peloponnesian War - says the great historian - the island of Milos (let's pretend it is Ukraine) sided with distant Sparta (read Washington) and not Athens (read Moscow), dominant in the Aegean. Then the Athenians (ie the Russians) sent an embassy to Milos with this message: "We did not come to inflict moralistic speeches on you, which only work when you are on an equal footing; if, on the other hand, there is a disparity of strength, the strongest demand and the weakest sketch. Now we are here to offer you a pact that guarantees both our interests and your safety ”. To which the islanders objected: "How could it be convenient for us to be dominated by you?" "Soon said - the ambassadors replied - you would only have to obey instead of harsh repression; and we would benefit from having you as allies ". Those of Milos objected: "But we trust in good luck and in the alliance with Sparta (or Washington)". Reply of the Athenians (ie the Russians): “Let's forget about good luck, which will not fail us either. As for Sparta, you are naive if you hope that it will come to your aid. It is people who only think that what is good for them is right; therefore they will not move to your aid ”. Back and forth, Milos finally refused the proposal and the Athens delegates took their leave saying: “Because you put your trust in the Spartans and in good luck, you have put everything on the line. And you will lose everything ”. Then Athens sent an expeditionary force, conquered the island, killed all the men of military age and enslaved women and children.

Thucydides' lesson will be cynical, but certainly realistic. If the rulers of 1914 had learned of it, the "useless massacre" of the Great War would have been avoided. After the Sarajevo attack, Vienna sent Serbia - believed to be jointly responsible for the death of Archduke Ferdinand - an ultimatum with clauses unacceptable for a small but sovereign state. Tsarist Russia, protector of Serbia, rushed to help, setting the war spiral in motion. While the soldiers from half of Europe were leaving for the front, the chancelleries reassured them: in a month, at most three, you will all be home. The same mistake could be repeated tomorrow: there are those in the Donbass who want to lead their hands and there are those in Ukraine who are already resigned to an unstoppable spiral of war.

How to defuse the fuse? Putin drew a "red line": never Ukraine in NATO. The West also has its own "red line": Ukraine never merged with Russia. What to do then? There is always some solution to avoid emerging conflicts, but courage, patience and discernment are needed.

Recent history offers us the example of Finland. Grand Duchy of the Tsarist Empire in the nineteenth century, it obtained independence from Lenin. But during the 2nd World War the Finns faced a very hard battle with the Soviet Union, from which they came out and surrendered that part of Karelia (23,000 sq km, including the city of Viipuri) that was "too" close to St. Petersburg. 400,000 careli, almost all non-Russian, were displaced towards Helsinki. I happened to go to Finland in 1959, in time to witness the relocation of refugees and the scenes of divided families greeting each other across the now impassable border.

Finland regained full independence in exchange for neutrality. The Soviets had kept a naval base on the Porkkala peninsula, opposite Estonia, as a precaution, but evacuated it in 1956. The fact that it remained out of NATO, as "neutralized", does not seem to have harmed Finland. In 1959 I had found a country that was just emerging from poverty. Today, with a per capita income of around $ 50,000, it has entered the category of ultra-rich countries, and is ranked among the most peaceful, competitive and with the highest quality of life in the world.

Would it be so unacceptable to the West and to Russia the idea of ​​Finlandising Ukraine?

Giuseppe Cassini

Giuseppe Cassini è stato consigliere diplomatico del governo italiano e rappresentante dell’Italia in diverse sedi all'estero, fra le quali Stati Uniti e Nazioni Unite a Ginevra.