Espreso. Global

Biden, NATO, and Zelenskyy. What to do if Ukraine remains outside Alliance

5 June, 2024 Wednesday

US President Joe Biden gave a rather interesting interview to TIME, where he said that Ukraine doesn't have to be in NATO to win. This can be perceived as a betrayal, or it can be used to draw certain conclusions for the future


First of all, it is worth noting that Biden's manner of speaking and his venerable age have done their job, so it is difficult to clearly understand what outlines of peace the United States is offering for Ukraine.

The part of the interview where Biden talks about whether Ukraine will eventually become a NATO member or not resembles a vinaigrette.

What did this particular excerpt from the TIME interview look like?

Journalist: “So what is the endgame though in Ukraine and what does peace look like there?”

Biden: “Peace looks like making sure Russia never, never, never, never occupies Ukraine. That's what peace looks like. And it doesn't mean NATO, they are part of NATO. It means we have a relationship with them like we do with other countries, where we supply weapons so they can defend themselves in the future. But it is not, if you notice, I was the one when—and you guys did report it at TIME—the one that I was saying that I am not prepared to support the NATOization of Ukraine.”

We should finally accept that the main task for the United States and Biden specifically is to end the war in its current phase. To do this, they are ready to make a certain concession for the life of Vladimir Putin, namely to "trade" NATO membership for agreements with Russia. It is unclear how well this will work, because so far Putin has not expressed any interest in ending the war on the West's terms. 

Secondly, it was a very clear signal to Volodymyr Zelenskyy that there will be no prospects for NATO during his term. Firstly, the West no longer wants to deal with the current Ukrainian leaders. Secondly, NATO is the main reason why Biden and Zelenskyy's relationship did not work out from the beginning.

It's worth recalling the first meeting between the two presidents in 2021, when Volodymyr Zelenskyy infuriated Biden by demanding that he join NATO immediately. According to the acclaimed memoir by writer Franklin Foer, the tone was such that “even Zelenskyy’s most ardent sympathizers in the [Biden] administration agreed that he had bombed.”

We all remember the famous photo from the NATO summit in Vilnius that went viral: everyone on the stairs standing in pairs and Zelenskyy alone in thought. Back then, the president managed to write a critical tweet about the conditions for Ukraine's accession to NATO without the approval of the Ukrainian delegation. He called Western partners weak warmers of Russia.

Germany and the United States did not like this and changed the final support document to a worse version.

However, this did not cool Zelensky down, and at the final press conference he was remembered for his familiar and unethical statements about then-Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace. Then a true friend of Ukraine, who negotiated arms for the front at the cost of his own authority, efforts, and even family vacations, hinted that he would like to see "a little gratitude from Ukrainians." However, Zelenskyy and former Defense Minister Reznikov performed a whole skit in public asking “what other gratitude does Ben Wallace need?” The Ukrainian president laughed on stage: “Let him write to me how to thank him, and I will thank him.”

For many Western elites, whether we like them or not, this has become a marker that Zelenskyy should not be given such a trump card as NATO. Europe and, in fact, the Western budget will no longer withstand a second Orban. 

What can a guarantee that Russia will never attack Ukraine look like? This is certainly an uninterrupted supply of Western weapons. And the launch of our own high-quality military-industrial complex. It is time for Ukraine to stop flirting with corn with the countries of the Global South. And finally, it is time to look for armed collaborations with allies representing the Global North. In the past month alone, France, Japan, and Taiwan have talked about joint production of weapons, such as artillery and drones, with Ukraine. And all of them are interested in one thing: a transparent tax system and the absence of masked shows from the SBU.

When Antony Blinken went to speak to the students of the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, he gave a clear message. This is an investment in defense to the extent that Ukraine can provide for itself and also sell the best models for export.

All of this may be a reality, but clearly not under the current parliament and government, which are professionally unfit, morally obsolete, and are rather tolerated out of respect for the realities of our times.

NATO welcomes those who can bring benefits. Those who are a reliable partner who will not abandon you, who will not call you names on the panels, and who will not make a bull's-eye. Finland and Sweden were quickly admitted to NATO because they have an excellent army, a high-quality military-industrial complex, and a terrorist defense system that has been substantially reformed since 2014, based on the experience of the first phase of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

We are good warriors on the battlefield, but NATO is also a story about a viable policy. It's about trust and Western values. Because you cannot steal from fortifications and bless dungeons where veterans are gagged with one hand, and then say "take us to NATO immediately" with the other. 

Even if it turns out that a peace treaty with Russia will have to be signed with a clause stating that we formally remain a neutral state, no one will stop us from building at least one powder and ammunition factory each. Finally, how did it happen that the country with the best artillery school is now asking for shells all over the world?

We cannot influence Biden's style of politics and his personal attitude towards Volodymyr Zelenskyy. But it is our right to think right now why our own defense is more important than roads and kindergartens under occupation. And that the road to NATO is not always paved with flowers. However, it is in our power to learn from the current war and join hands with a country that asks for weapons to become a hub of military technology.

For a while, Russia can be happy that it has taken a piece of our land and even say that it has defended itself so well that Ukraine is not yet a NATO member. But it will only be a matter of time before well-fed Russians in unafraid Belgorod are shaking in their basement because we will have a few hundred of their high-quality missiles - the return of territories and our new status - will be a matter of time.

About the author: Maryna Danyliuk-Yarmolaieva, journalist.

The editors don't always share the opinions expressed by the authors of blogs.

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