The Russian and Ukrainian delegations are meeting this Tuesday in Istanbul for a new round of negotiations. The question of Ukraine’s “neutrality” should again be at the center of the discussions.
“This point of the negotiations is understandable to me and it is under discussion, it is being studied in depth,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an online interview with Russian independent media on Sunday.
But this new status “will have to be submitted to a referendum”, he warned, also calling for “security guarantees”.
If it is recorded that Ukraine will not join NATO, the contours of its future neutrality remain unclear.
no Austrian or Swedish model
Russian diplomacy had initially mentioned Austria and Sweden as models of neutrality to follow. Even if in reality, these countries are not totally neutral.
Sweden, historically non-aligned and non-member of NATO, has gradually given up its neutrality since the end of the cold war. A member of the EU since 1995, it has not hesitated to deliver arms to Ukraine. Austria, for its part, can be considered more of a neutral state because a constitutional law of 1955 prohibits it from joining a military alliance and hosting a foreign base on its soil. However, this did not prevent Vienna from also joining the EU in 1995 and from taking sanctions against Russia today, in particular by closing its air space to Russian planes.
Be that as it may, examples from abroad have been rejected outright by kyiv: “Ukraine is now in a state of direct war with Russia. Therefore, the model can only be Ukrainian and concerns only legally verified security guarantees,” said Ukrainian negotiator Mykhaïlo Podoliak.
It is difficult today to imagine what Ukraine’s new status might look like. The country has in fact repeatedly demanded that its security vis-à-vis Russia be guaranteed by foreign powers, which at first sight seems incompatible with the neutrality desired by the Russians.
“This means that the signatories will not stand aside in the event of an attack on Ukraine as is the case today, but that they will take an active part in the conflict on the side of Ukraine”, declared Mykhaïlo Podoliak on March 16.
On the Russian side, we also want “Ukraine to renounce both NATO and EU membership, because we have seen that Austria has succeeded in interpreting its neutrality by joining the European Union,” said researcher Laure Gallouët in an interview with Dauphiné Libéré.
A country cut in two?
Moscow said on Friday that it wanted to focus its offensive on eastern Ukraine, a change of course that raised fears in kyiv of a partition of the country. The Lugansk separatists have even mentioned the holding of a referendum on the independence of their territory.
Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said on Sunday that “after failing to take kyiv and overthrow the Ukrainian government”, Moscow “could impose a dividing line between the occupied and unoccupied regions of our country, in an attempt” to institute a Korean-style separation.