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Ukraine is fully entitled to choose its allies

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

John Lough is an associate fellow of the Russia & Eurasia Programme at Chatham House.

Is there a risk of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Yes, this is a possibility but not necessarily the most likely. It seems that Putin is still weighing up his options and using the threat of military force to try to persuade the US and its NATO allies to give him some form of 'off ramp'. This might include Zelensky making concessions on implementing the Minsk Agreements under pressure from Ukraine's western partners. However, this is unlikely to happen because Zelensky has so little room for maneuver. And even if he made concessions, they would probably not be enough to satisfy the Kremlin. So Putin may be tempted to go for a limited operation to create a land bridge to Crimea. It is very unlikely that Russian tanks will head for Kyiv. Russia does not have enough forces ready at the moment to undertake such an operation that would, in any case, be fraught with risk.

What do you think about the latest standoff, in which Russia is demanding guarantees that NATO would never let Ukraine join? Should Ukraine pursue neutrality status instead of the current state policy of pursuing NATO membership?

Ukraine is fully entitled to choose its allies. If Russia were to change its policies towards Ukraine and respect it as an independent, sovereign country, it might not need to seek NATO membership. Russia knows full well that Ukraine is not going to join NATO at any point in the short to medium-term. This is a non-issue. But it would like to stop Ukraine from moving closer to NATO as Finland and Sweden have done. By establishing closer relations with NATO and using the benefits of closer ties to modernise its armed forces, Ukraine will strengthen its independence.

Has the West done enough to support Ukraine's democratic development? Is there more that can be done?

Ukraine's international partners have put significant resources into helping Ukraine strengthen its democratic institutions. Despite all the problems, progress has been made since 2014. However, much more needs to be done to change the system of governance. This is something Ukrainians must do themselves. Western countries can provide the expertise but not the political will.

What should Ukraine do to strengthen its sovereignty?

Judicial reform is a top priority. The country must make itself attractive to domestic and foreign investors. Economic growth levels are far below what they should be.

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