Not easy steps at all, but with just about every title on the internet being made up of clickbait exaggeration, I don’t see why I shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon. Although the steps I shall describe below are not easy, they are actually quite simple – they’ll just require a great deal of courage, which is where it will probably all fall down. The leaders of the Free World these days are as much in use as a handbrake on a canoe.
Back in March, the Polish government suggested the deployment of international peacekeepers to Ukraine, an idea which caused the sort of reaction you’d expect. The West threw up its arms in horror at the thought of its own troops having to use Western weapons against Russians (but when Ukrainians do it, it’s alright), while President Volodymyr Zelensky seemed confused by the notion, claiming that “We do not need a frozen conflict”.
Zelensky clearly thought that what the Polish meant was to stop all fighting and let them act as impartial arbiters, like what Russia pretended to do over the 2020 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Personally, I doubt that’s what they intended. Nobody could take seriously the idea of the Polish treating Russians and Ukrainians the same way, especially not after Warsaw has been the number three foreign supplier of Ukraine’s war effort.
Besides, the Russians wouldn’t trust any Polish mediation. I mean to say, after Russia conquered Poland by treachery with Hitler in 1939, and then let the brave warriors of the Warsaw Uprising perish or surrender to the Nazis, after which the Soviet Union did its best to Russify their country…well, obviously Poland simply cannot be trusted.
How, then, could a version of Poland’s idea work? Well, my international democratic nation-state friends, gather round my table of diplomacy – France, stop touching Italy’s leg, and Germany, stop crying – take a deep breath, and brace yourself.
What could be done – with the permission and cooperation of the Ukrainian authorities – is to deploy Polish (or NATO), but I really think only Poland would have the guts for this, to the safest areas of Ukraine. If places such as Lviv, Odessa and Kyiv were home to friendly foreign troops, any Ukrainian garrison in the area would be free to move and help their brothers- and sisters-in-arms kick the invaders out of the south and east.
This suits Ukraine since their cities will be looked after by friends and their own soldiers can be sent somewhere more useful. It suits the West, as well, since their troops will be deploying to Ukraine, but not required to fight.
Now I know what you’re thinking – there will be a man in Moscow who might be a little less excited about the idea. Already, the man whose Peter the Great tribute act is looking less like a professional production and more like a high school show, has made noises about World War III. While I personally am not totally convinced that a Russian nuclear missile would actually fly if you asked it to, I can see why the West is – to put it mildly – is concerned by the thought of sending troops to Ukraine. How best, then, to make sure London and Washington don’t become the settings for spiritual sequels to HBO’s Chernobyl?
Russia’s embassies across the West are still open, even if every Western leader is treating their local Russian ambassador with the icy politeness you might use for an ex-partner. The channels of communication are still open, meaning the Kremlin could be informed of every soldier, vehicle, and piece of equipment being sent to Ukraine, and all of their movements at all times. Add to this the idea of drawing a line down the middle of Ukraine with a sign saying ‘No Western Troops Beyond this Point’, then even Russia might swallow its pride and accept that it will only have the chance to contest Eastern Ukraine, a fight which it thinks it can still win, but it can’t.
Furthermore, if the foreign troops sent to Ukraine are only armed with small arms and the ability to defend themselves rather than launch offensive operations, Russian suspicions of a sudden NATO onslaught can creditably be ignored.
It is true that Russia will most likely say that the deployment of NATO troops is an act of war. But they’re saying that already. Russia’s state-controlled media has claimed that the foreigners in Ukraine’s army are not in the Ukrainian Foreign Legion but are, in fact, proof that Western troops are already on the ground. They’ve also said that the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine is an act of war. In this, I suppose, they might have a point. After all, if Person A gives the gun they’re holding to Person B and it’s the latter who shoots you, you’re still dead.
This idea will find no champions of any standing anywhere in Europe. Not so fast, says I. Both former Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius and Defence Minister Rasa Jukneviciene – now both sitting MEPs – were onboard when I asked them about this in Brussels a few months ago.
I asked Dr. Jukneviciene if deploying NATO troops would be an escalation. “Why would (the Polish plan) necessarily be an escalation?” she said. “It might be a de-escalation. What is very clear to me is that we have to help Ukraine win this war. To do that, that means no Russian troops on Ukrainian soil at all: including the occupied territories that they took in 2014.
“How to do this? There are two main points: we have to understand that we need to help them win militarily by supplying them with everything they need. But we have to start to think again about what the Polish proposed. I think it will happen in the future, it’s unavoidable.
“Still, the other countries are not close to understanding this. But remember the first messages from the German government about weapons supplies. They said ‘No, not at all’, but then they changed their minds. The danger is of course nuclear weapons. Ukraine is not protected from Russia by NATO’s nuclear umbrella.”
She is, of course, exactly right. But there’s a workaround here, too; while Sweden and Finland wait for NATO membership, the UK put them both under its own nuclear protection. This stunning geopolitical step was taken in about five minutes and begs the question of why they can’t just do the same for Ukraine.
Former Prime Minister Kubilius agrees. “Should some sort of Western coalition send forces to support Ukraine? I would not be opposed to that idea. We need to understand that this is our war – the goals have to be bigger, beyond Ukraine itself. If we look to the longer term of how to guarantee peace and stability on the European continent, then we need to do our job.
“The West definitely needs a more clear military strategy towards Ukraine, which NATO has failed to provide. Every country involved has a different approach. There is no unity even on the political philosophy.
“But for us, this is our war – and for us to think that we need to come to a simple conclusion over what the strategy is, and then how we can reach that. I see a lack of that in having a unified approach. I saw Liz Truss used the same language when she said, ‘This is our war’. I was glad to see she was of the same mind, but from the European continent this is missing.”
The West has shown its timidity too many times over the last fourteen years. Indeed, if it could have shown some unified strength, perhaps Russia would never have dared attack Ukraine. As things are, the West has demonstrated once again that it’s only prepared to go to war against those countries that have no possibility of retaliating with weapons of mass destruction; Gaddafi and Hussein are gone, but Kim Jong-Un’s ample rump is still in Pyongyang, and Putin will only be brought down from within if he’s brought down at all.
Further appeasement will not work. What further proof could be provided? The same goes for sanctions. But this, a real show of strength and a tangible commitment to the people of Ukraine, would be worth trying. Besides, with Putin threatening nuclear war anyway, it can’t exactly make matters worse.