Duncan Allan is an Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House and director of Octant Research & Analysis Ltd, an independent consultancy. For more than 28 years, he was a member of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s research analysts cadre, working on the countries of the former Soviet Union, particularly Russia and Ukraine. He served at the British Embassies in Moscow and Kyiv.
What do you think about the escalating situation in Ukraine? Is there a risk of Russian invasion? My judgment is that Russia's significant escalation of military force is not inevitable but is a distinct possibility. Russia’s political leadership is seeking to break Ukraine as a sovereign country by trying to force its interpretation of the Minsk-2 agreement of February 2015 on the authorities in Kyiv. But the Kremlin would much prefer at present to do this by ‘coercive diplomacy’ rather than by intensifying its use of military force against Ukraine – although the latter certainly cannot be ruled out.
What do you think about the latest stand-off, 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?
Ultimately, it should be for Ukraine, as a sovereign European country, to decide its foreign policy orientation. The cause of the current crisis is Russia’s refusal or inability to accept Ukraine as a sovereign country. In reality, there is no likelihood that Ukraine would be admitted to NATO membership in the foreseeable future, given the ongoing conflict in East Ukraine and divisions among NATO members.
Has the West done enough to support Ukraine? Is there more that can be done?
In my view, Western countries should stand full square behind the defence of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Among other things, this means supporting Ukraine’s interpretation of the Minsk-2 agreement, in the knowledge that this would entail a prolonged stand-off with Russia. Support for Ukraine’s sovereignty also means support for internal political and economic reform in Ukraine so that Ukraine is able to build stable and resilient institutions capable of withstanding further Russian pressure. Western countries should also provide certain categories of defensive lethal military equipment to enhance the deterrent capabilities of Ukraine’s armed forces. Western countries should also be ready to apply severe economic sanctions on Russia to enhance deterrence against the possibility that the Kremlin decides to escalate its use of military force against Ukraine. This would also signal solidarity with Ukraine.
What should Ukraine do to strengthen its security and sovereignty?
It is vital that Ukraine remains committed to the long-term implementation of the EU/Ukraine Association Agreement, which with other fundamental reforms (particularly as regards rule of law), could provide the foundations for a stable, prosperous, and democratic Ukraine. This will require far-reaching reform of Ukraine’s economy, state machinery, and legal system.