Ukraine can’t have NATO-style security guarantees from the West, Germany says

BERLIN — Western countries are willing to safeguard Ukraine’s future existence with security guarantees but they can’t amount to a similar level of protection as the NATO military alliance provides, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday.

Countries like the U.S., U.K., Germany and France have started discussing with Ukraine how to ensure that a potential post-war peace agreement between Kyiv and Moscow will be respected by both sides so that Russia does not use such a truce to regroup and attack its neighbor again in the future.

However, answering questions from lawmakers in the Bundestag, the German lower house of parliament, Scholz said that it was “clear” that such security guarantees for Ukraine “won’t correspond to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.”

The chancellor was referring to the mutual defense clause of the military alliance, which says that an attack on one NATO country has to be treated as an attack on all members. In practice, the Article 5 clause is a major safeguard, especially for more vulnerable countries like the Baltics, because it means, for example, that the U.S. would intervene with all its military power if Russia attacked — acting as a powerful deterrent.

Yet for Ukraine, which is in its fifth month of fighting off a Russian invasion, Scholz’s remarks must sound particularly disheartening: It was Germany, together with France, that denied the Eastern European country a clear path to NATO membership in 2008. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy argued in March that Russia would not have attacked his country if it had been a NATO member.

Scholz’s remarks appear to suggest that Ukraine won’t be able to count on direct military support by NATO in the future either. NATO countries have indirectly supported Kyiv in its war with Russia by sending tanks, artillery and other kinds of weapons, but they have cautiously made sure to not get directly involved in the war.

The chancellor told lawmakers that security guarantees for Ukraine “must be tailored” to the country’s “specific situation,” but did not provide further details, arguing that “this is all a process that is far from being complete and therefore cannot yet be concretized.”

Scholz also suggested that the West should use its “highly effective sanctions against Russia” — which might be lifted or watered down if Russia agrees to a reasonable peace deal with Ukraine — and reinstate these restrictive measures “if there are violations ” of the peace agreement.

Ukraine has had bad experiences with security guarantees without sufficient enforceability: The country gave up its nuclear weapons in the 1990s in exchange for assurances from Russia, the U.S. and Britain, which vowed in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum “to respect the independence and sovereignty” of Ukraine and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country. The guarantee was first violated by Russia in 2014 when it annexed Crimea and got involved in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, and then completely rendered null and void with Moscow’s invasion this year.