Reuters has reported this morning that there is some optimism beginning to emerge around the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. This follows yesterday’s statement by Ukrainian President Zelensky that Ukraine accepts that joining NATO is not feasible.
Presumably this explains Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s declaration that “neutral status is now being seriously discussed along, of course, with security guarantees.” There are other issues involved and Ukraine is unlikely, nor ought to have, to agree to “demilitarisation,” which would effectively render it defenceless.
However, given that Ukraine’s relationship with NATO was one of the ostensible motivations for the Russian invasion, and in the light of the apparent failure of the Russian armed forces to achieve its military objectives, Zelensky’s declaration may provide a means to end the war.
What happens next will depend greatly on what emerges from today’s meeting in Brussels of NATO defence ministers which began at 9am Central European Time. The pre-conference statement by NATO General Secretary Stoltenberg referred primarily to the need to prevent the conflict from escalating beyond the borders of Ukraine.
The soundbites from NATO and from the United States are somewhat in contrast to the stance being taken by member states of the Visegrad alliance which includes Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and by other states bordering on the conflict zone. The Prime Ministers of Poland, Czechia and Slovenia travelled by train to Kiev yesterday where they met with Zelensky.
The three leaders left little doubt about how they view the war. The conservative Slovenian Prime Minister Jansa, who is close to Viktor Orban of Hungary, declared that Ukraine was “defending the very core of European values,” while the Polish PM Morawiecki pointedly referred back to a speech made by his Law and Justice (PiS) Party leader Kaczynski in 2008 when Russia was threatening another former Soviet vassal state, Georgia.
“Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow the Baltic states, and then maybe it’s time for my country, for Poland.”
The Visegrad alliance of Poland, Hungary, Czechia and Slovakia has been notably both more belligerent in terms of what it expects the western response to be, and slightly disparaging of that response to date. While clearly part of whatever diplomatic initiatives may be in play, the group also sounded a more militant note in the hours before the Brussels NATO conference.
It is important to understand where countries like Poland are coming from in relation to this. While some conservatives and nationalists in the west of Europe and in the United States are rightly sceptical of anything that the liberal left leaderships of their own countries and indeed of the EU and of NATO stand for – or rather do not stand for – the Poles and others do not have that luxury.
Nor are they unmindful of the contradictions of the EU and western European leaders vis-à-vis their attempts to bully Poland and Hungary on issues of domestic sovereignty while at the same time posing as defenders of Ukraine.
Our own vapid “leadership” are only ever on the right side of anything by accident. Usually only because those they defer to in Brussels or Washington happen to be. That is irrelevant to the real issues at stake here.
What emerges from the war in Ukraine is of crucial importance to those countries that endured decades of terror and oppression at the hands of Communist parties and their secret police forces under the effective control of the Kremlin.
We ought not to take their concerns and their motivations in all of this lightly, nor see them too much through the prism of other issues which are secondary at the present time.