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Ukraine Created an Insurgency Today

Ukraine’s parliament voted to abandon non-aligned status and seek NATO membership (read the full story, here).

In the long term, Ukraine will be better off. Getting there will be costly and painful. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the decision would lead to further conflict. He is right. He isn’t making a vague prediction, he’s providing Russia’s policy response. Russia cannot accept the geopolitical reality of Ukraine in NATO, so there will be no peace until some other accommodation is found. Russia won’t openly intervene militarily, but they can generate destabilizing insurgency within Ukraine without end (to understand this gambit, read Why Is there a Taliban?). In the end, Ukraine is going to be okay; unfortunately for the people of Ukraine, this is about 10 years in the future.

Joining NATO is not an easy thing. Ukraine worked on it, rather successfully, from 2002 to 2010. Ukraine joined Partnership for Peace in 2002 and submitted a Membership Application Plan in 2008. This was all very threatening to Russia. The switch to non-aligned status was in response to intense Russian pressure. The economic, political and military reforms required for NATO membership are significant and nowhere in Ukraine’s near future.

I am unconvinced that Ukraine needs to be a NATO member. Ukraine can probably get what it needs from NATO by simply revitalizing its Partnership for Peace membership. The trick is to find an arrangement everyone can live with: Ukraine and NATO both want the ability to backstop Ukrainian security with NATO resources, BUT Russia can’t accept full NATO membership for Ukraine. Partnership for Peace membership, perhaps with an ongoing membership process that is never quite consummated, is a workable answer.

Given Ukraine’s geography and resources, it can be another Poland-style success. Economic and political success will require some reasonable amount of stability and security. Pushing too hard for full NATO membership would be unrealistic and counterproductive. Ukraine should think about success in its own right and find accommodations on all borders that bring maximum good to the people of Ukraine. Demanding that Russia foment a destabilizing insurgency within its borders is not a smart play.

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