Despite delivering an impassioned address to a joint session of Congress in September following the Russian invasion and annexation of portions of eastern Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko was unable to secure lethal military aid from the United States. On Monday, the Ukrainian president acknowledged that his country lacks the resources to regain control of the territories lost to “pro-Russian separatists” and the Russian army via military means. As a result, he said, his country had ruled out the prospect of a new offensive in the east.
At that same news conference, Poroshenko revealed that he would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as French President Francois Holland and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a January 15 summit in the Kazakhstani capital of Astana. “He said he had spoken with U.S. President Barack Obama about the possibility of him joining talks on the territories where pro-Russian separatists launched a rebellion in April,” Newsweek reported.
In Astana, the Western leaders will join Russia and Ukraine in multilateral negotiations over the situation in Ukraine, effectively granting Moscow the West’s imprimatur. Cyclical, multi-round talks over the situation in Ukraine will have the same effect on that conflict as have multilateral nuclear talks with Iran and North Korea: The normalization of that which was once intolerable. With the commencement of formal negotiations, the Western powers have acknowledged the new status quo in Europe and condemned Ukraine to endure years of destabilizing, semi-frozen conflict that occasionally erupts in war.
Though it is not the first meeting between these heads of state in an effort to resolve the crisis in Ukraine via diplomatic means, it is the most significant to date. When the initial talks over the situation in eastern Ukraine (predictably) collapsed, that should have represented a diplomatic cul-de-sac. The Russian position on the conflict in Ukraine – an absurd fairy tale in which their annexation of Crimea was the result of an invitation and the separatist rebellion an organic phenomenon – has now been granted legitimacy by the West. That can never be undone.
Despite his strategic limitations, however, Poroshenko also recently signaled that he has not entirely given up the fight against Russian aggression.
On Monday, Poroshenko signed into law Kiev’s renunciation of its neutral status in pursuit of NATO membership.
Russia said last week NATO was turning Ukraine into a “frontline of confrontation” and threatened to sever remaining ties if Ukraine’s hopes of joining NATO were realized.
”When Ukraine will meet those (NATO) criteria – possibly within the next 5-6 years – then the people of Ukraine will make their choice,” Poroshenko said.
Putin and his defenders in the West have repeatedly insisted that NATO expansion in Eastern Europe, despite assurances to the contrary in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, serve as the basis for his country’s revanchism. Not unexpectedly, Moscow said that Poroshenko’s decision to renounce his nation’s non-aligned status was a threat to Russian security. Whether that is true or not, Ukraine’s entry into NATO is extraordinarily unlikely. For NATO to absorb Ukraine is to assume responsibility for the prosecution of its ongoing war against Russian forces. That’s not happening anytime soon, particularly given the West’s apparent faintheartedness.
The Western powers, led by the United States, should have addressed this invasion by pledging to provide Ukraine with all appropriate and necessary aid until Russian forces withdrew from sovereign Ukrainian territory. Instead, the President of the United States could not even muster the integrity to call it an invasion. On the 15th, the West will tacitly accept the new, suboptimal status quo of a European continent again at war.