The war in Ukraine is a challenge to the developed countries of the world to use their experience and geopolitical weight to bring the war to an end, build a new European security architecture, and finally give Ukraine the security status that would allow the people of Ukraine to look to the future with confidence.

Major geopolitical players, primarily the United States, must be ready for a frank dialogue, which is impossible without a retrospective analysis of previous decisions regarding Ukraine.

So, after the collapse of the USSR, the main goal of the US policy towards the post-Soviet countries was to establish and support democracy in Russia.  It was about supporting Russian President Yeltsin personally. This allowed the United States to hope for the successful implementation of NATO’s expansion strategy to the East, where Yeltsin would be more loyal than any other politician in Russia at the time. He disclosed in his memoirs that Strobe Talbott, an adviser to President Clinton, was very certain about this official position in the US administration.

Against this backdrop, Washington’s view at the time was that Ukraine’s independence and nuclear weapons created additional problems for Yeltsin in Russia itself. Communists and nationalists, such as Zhirinovsky, played the card of Russia’s imperial ambitions, hinting at Russia’s territorial expansion within the borders of the USSR. At the time, President Clinton was doing everything possible to strengthen Yeltsin’s position in Russia.

The pressure on Ukraine to give up nuclear weapons eventually yielded results: in January 1994, a trilateral statement was signed between Ukraine, Russia, and the United States on Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament. Ukraine agreed to transfer its nuclear warheads to Russia and accepted U.S. assistance in dismantling missiles, bombers, and nuclear infrastructure. Ukraine’s warheads would be dismantled in Russia, and Ukraine would receive compensation for the commercial value of the highly enriched uranium.

Ukraine ratified START on February 3, 1994, repealing its earlier preconditions, but it would not accede to the NPT without further security assurances. Finally, in December 1994, the famous Budapest Memorandum was signed between Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and Britain, according to which Ukraine received security guarantees from these countries. Time has shown that this was a flawed U.S. strategy that merely postponed the security problem for Ukraine but did not solve it.

In fact, these U.S. efforts to disarm Ukraine were used by the U.S. to ensure controlled influence on Russia by strengthening Yeltsin’s position there.

This also secured his approval of the 1994 withdrawal of Russian troops from the Baltic States and Yeltsin’s approval in 1993 after meeting with Polish President Walesa for Poland’s accession to NATO.

After the last nuclear warhead left the territory of Ukraine in 1996, public debate began in the United States about the strategy for NATO’s further eastward expansion. It was no longer a question of whether or not the expansion would take place but rather how fast it would take place and which countries in Eastern Europe would be the first to join NATO. The hearings on NATO’s eastward enlargement were noteworthy in the Senate in 1997. The hearings were informative, with strong analyses of the costs of enlargement, risk assessment, and tactics for expansion.

As a senator, President Biden was a member of the Senate committee and took part in those hearings, too. Ukraine’s prospects in NATO were not considered in those crucial debates – after nuclear disarmament, Ukraine was not on the agenda of NATO’s eastward expansion. Under no circumstances could the Budapest Memorandum be considered a reliable instrument for Ukraine’s security. Thus, after nuclear disarmament in the 1990s, Ukraine became a geopolitical buffer zone between the West and Russia.

So, what geopolitical role did Ukraine play in the early 1990s? In the early 1990s, Ukraine became a tool for solving European security problems and relations between the United States and Russia. Moreover, Ukraine was used to adjust the internal political pressure in Russia. At the same time, security in Europe was achieved by postponing Ukraine’s geopolitical challenges. Postponement, but not solution. The weakening of Ukraine’s security through its nuclear disarmament in the absence of an effective compensator – Ukraine’s membership in NATO – solved the security problems of some European countries and allowed NATO to expand to the East.

Then President Clinton made a mistake that is now obvious: By not solving but only postponing the security problem for Ukraine, he also failed to solve but also postponed the security problem for Europe because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showed that neither the United States nor Brussels could de-escalate quickly and without damaging their own reputations. In the ’90s, the decisions of President Clinton toward Ukraine were too straightforward, at least.

The large-scale war in Ukraine is now in its third year, and every day it continues could spread the flames of war to Europe, paving the way for World War III.

Washington and Ukraine’s other partners, who, by the will of fate or consciously, became geopolitical beneficiaries of that security experiment over Ukraine in the 1990s, must now take responsibility for Ukraine’s future and security. There are sufficient tools for this, including post-war security guarantees with clear and meaningful commitments, an effective plan for Ukraine’s recovery similar to the Marshall Plan, including the development of the defence industry, and Ukraine’s invitation to join the EU and NATO. The mistakes of the past, if not corrected, will remind us of ourselves again and again, but with much greater consequences for Europe and the world.

When it comes to Ukraine’s security guarantees, it was President Biden who gave the green light to the process of negotiations between Western partners and Ukraine on its guarantees. More than ten months have passed since Biden’s July 7, 2023 statement. The West has demonstrated progress in this regard – fifteen Western countries have already signed relevant security agreements with Ukraine. The United States is still waiting. Hopefully, this will be done solemnly before or during the NATO anniversary summit in Washington in July this year or even before the upcoming peace summit in Switzerland. At least the US does not deny this development.

The United States and Germany are unanimously against the prospect of receiving an invitation to the NATO summit. At the same time, public dialogue on this topic between NATO members is not encouraged. This issue will likely be next in line after Ukraine’s accession to the EU, which will give the United States time to manoeuvre in rebuilding public communications with Russia.

That is probably why the restoration of Ukraine and the further implementation of systemic reforms in Ukraine, i.e., what will essentially have the features of the Marshall Plan after World War II, is a matter of the EU’s responsibility. At the same time, Ukraine’s possible accession to the EU is not a security tool for Ukraine.

The rapid accession of two EU countries, Finland and Sweden, to NATO against the backdrop of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine shows that NATO is a reliable security mechanism for European countries.

This means that only the United States, on behalf of the West, will have to solve the security problems of Europe, and thus Ukraine, inherited from the 1990s. To do so, the United States will need to engage in an effective dialogue not only with Russia but also with China, which, as Zbigniew Brzezinski noted in the 1990s, will become a geopolitical player in the 20s of this millennium that the United States will not be able to ignore in resolving security issues even in parts of the world far from China.

What does this mean? It means that President Biden and his successor have an even more difficult task than President Clinton had in the 1990s that will require an approach based on the art of geopolitics based on the sophisticated long-term strategy and consecutive decisions called “a responsible geopolitics”. The cornerstone of the US strategy toward Ukraine could become reliable Security Guarantees (assurances).

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