Ukrainians Are Far From Unified on NATO. Let Them Decide for Themselves.

After weeks of media panic over a purported Russian military invasion of Ukraine, there may be a chance for the conflict to be resolved through negotiations. However, the public conversation about the Russian-Western conflict in Ukraine is quite ironic. It focuses on guarantees that Ukraine will not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance (NATO), which is far from inviting Ukraine to join, and which most Ukrainians do not want to join.

Ukraine is not playing a secondary part in the exchanges of threats and negotiations over its destiny. Commentators are homogenizing Ukrainians in a colonial manner and misrecognising the political diversity in a nation that has 40 million citizens. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently tweeted about the principle “Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” contrary to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inclination to determine Ukraine’s membership in NATO in a narrow circle of Great Powers. However, the problem is not only deciding “without Ukraine” but also deciding “for” very diverse Ukrainians as if they held identical opinions on the critical issues in question.

A popular interpretationThis strategic disguise is made possible by the Euromaidan revolution. The story continues: in 2014, Ukrainians came from many regions and merged into one state during WWII. This was the moment when the revolution created a civic inclusive nation. Ukrainians made their “civilizational choice” in favor of the Western geopolitical orientation and are defending it against Russian aggression, which is attempting to return Ukraine to its sphere of influence. The 2014 war in Donbas is presented as an inter-state conflict and not as a continuation of the civil war that began in the last days after Euromaidan, even before any military moves from Russia.

Euromaidan was in fact a fraud. deficient revolution.It did not create any national unity. However, the elite groups that benefited from it (along with ideological cheerleaders), need to maintain this illusion for internal legitimacy and external legitimacy via combination silencing and suppression. It is, therefore, in their interest to present the alternative positions on Ukrainian past, present and future as “non-Ukrainian” or even “anti-Ukrainian,” even though these positions are shared by many (if not most) Ukrainian citizens. These Ukrainians are now less able to speak out in the international and domestic public spheres.

Ukraine has not simply turned into an object of the Great Powers’ play. Ukraine is being used in humiliating ways to serve imperialist interests, and misrepresents them as a noble undertaking. The pathos-laden references to Ukraine’s sovereignty parallel the reality of the state, which is more dependent on foreign powers politically, economically and militarily than ever before since the Soviet collapse. Recognizing Ukraine’s diversity and shifting the discussion to the interests of Ukrainians is particularly imperative not only for immediate de-escalation of the conflict, but for any sustainable solution for Ukraine and the peace in Europe.

Do Ukrainians Want NATO Membership?

Russia is demandingIronclad guarantees that Ukraine and other ex-USSR countries will not join NATO and that NATO won’t use these territories for military expansion are provided. Most Western officials and observers have responded that it was up to NATO and Ukraine to decide and not Russia. Many Western commentators are obsessed with reading Putin’s mind: How he would react if not satisfied with a response to his ultimatums? These are mirrored in the viral symmetrical speculations from the other side about whether Biden would be open to a deal with Russia. Many are not interested in what the Ukrainians think about this. Do Ukrainians really want to join NATO?

Ukraine’s neutral status, which excludes it from entering any military blocs, was inscribed into the foundational documents of the modern Ukrainian state: the Declaration of Sovereignty (adopted July 16, 1990) and the Constitution of Ukraine (June 28, 1996). December 2007, just before the notorious Bucharest summit. settled that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO,” less than 20 percentMany Ukrainian citizens supported NATO membership. The majority of Ukrainians are split between supporting a military alliance against Russia or retaining their non-bloc neutrality status.

NATO membership was a cause that only a small number of Ukrainians believed in until the turbulent events of 2014. As a result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Donbas, support for NATO membership jumped upTo around 40 percent. It was not yet accepted by the majority of Ukrainians.

Two factors contributed to this shift of public opinion. Some Ukrainians who were previously skeptical of NATO membership began to see it as a way to protect themselves from further hostile actions by Russia. But no less important reason for the hike in support was that the surveys no longer included the most pro-Russian Ukrainian citizens from the territories not under Ukrainian government control — Crimea and Donbas. Millions of Ukrainian citizens were effectively excluded from the Ukrainian public realm.

Since 2014, the support for a military alliance between Russia and Ukraine has dropped sharply in the rest of Ukraine. However, most of the former Russia supporters did not turn into supporters of NATO but switched to support for a neutral status, “plague on both of your houses” position. The reluctance of a large portion of Ukrainians to accept NATO is remarkable when you consider the seven years of military conflict, which was misunderstood as the war with Russia.

Before the elections of 2019, the previous Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, pushed for changes to Ukraine’s constitution to put it on a path to join the European Union (EU) and NATO. It didn’t help to prevent his catastrophic defeat by Zelensky.

Support for NATO in Ukraine is variable region. Only the western regions have a solid, stable pro-NATO majority. Perhaps there is a pro-NATO plurality within Central Ukraine. However, in the eastern and south regions, neutrality is more popular that NATO membership, despite it being most likely that this part would be occupied in the event of a real Russian invasion.

This issue is especially divisive because there is a correlation between support of NATO and different visions for Ukraine’s national identity. Many Ukrainians see NATO a means of defense against Russia. Many other Ukrainians feel that NATO membership would forfeit more of Ukraine’s sovereignty to the West, which they feel has been happening since 2014, and, at the same time, would increase tensions with Russia, escalate internal tensions among Ukrainians, and drag the nation in one of the U.S.’s “forever” wars, one of which just recently ended in a humiliating defeat.

Some evidence suggests that the Russian military buildup in spring 2021 could have been a result of this. increaseSupport for NATO. It is very likely that NATO supporters will win a referendum. However, such projections for the referendum are less valid to assess the preferences for Ukraine’s security strategy among Ukraine’s general population because they squeeze the choice to “yes” or “no” and do not cover millions of Ukrainian citizens in Donbas and Crimea who would not be able to vote at the referendum but have a strong opinion on the issue. Besides, it remains uncertain how Ukraine’s public opinion would react to very clear messagesThe U.S. is not willing to send troops to Russia in case it attacks Ukraine, or to any compromises made in the course of negotiations.

While criticizing Putin’s demands to decide Ukraine’s membership between the Great Powers, it is important not to fall into a similar fallacy and dubiously impose the desire to join NATO on Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are far from united in their support for NATO membership. It is a contentious issue that can only be properly resolved in a political process in which a large part of dissenting Ukrainians are not discarded and stigmatized by default as “traitors” or “stooges” of Russian propaganda for being skeptical about NATO for good reasons.

Way out and Way Forward

Although the opposition segment may be a small minority, or even the majority of Ukrainian citizens at large, it has been poorly organized and mobilized in comparison to the nationalist or neoliberal sections. Only the latter. expandedThey are putting pressure on the weak Ukrainian state to implement their unpopular agendas. The radicalizing nationalist policies during Poroshenko’s rule were followed, in 2021, by the sanctions and threats by Zelensky targeting a leader of the popular opposition party, powerful Oligarchs and most major opposition media. Despite human rightsDespite some criticism, it did not provoke significant public reaction from West, unlike the repressions of the Russian and Belarusian opponents. Many observers accepted a lazy securitizing explanation that repression of allegedly “pro-Russian” forces is inevitable or even legitimate in the country under the foreign threat. However, further limitations on the political and public representation of a large segment of Ukrainian society does not make Ukraine stronger — only weaker and even more divided.

The Minsk peace agreements, which require the establishment of a special status to the Donbas territories that have broken away, could be a key part of a possible solution for Ukraine. They were signed following a series of defeats by the Ukrainian military in 2014-2015, but little has been done since then. Noteworthy, even some supporters present it as an “unsavory compromise” with “Russia’s terms, imposed using armed aggression.”

However, it is important that you understand that the Minsk Agreements are not something Putin wants. Instead, they could be a way to a more democratic and pluralistic Ukraine, which recognizes and accepts its political differences. The accords serve both as the ends and means in this process. Minsk agreements assume that the people of Donbas will return to Ukraine as a legitimate entity. They have different opinions about recent events and history, language policies and international alliances, than the nationalist political or civil society, who speak for the Ukrainian society, but only poor represent its diversity. This would require a radical change of the dominant post-Euromaidan discourse in Ukraine’s public sphere and work towards a more inclusive definition of the national identity.

Minsk agreements, on the other hand, restore some of the institutional balance (now institutionally secured) into Ukrainian politics. This is in contrast to the expectations and attitudes of the general population. The Minsk accords simultaneously require and enable a substantive dialogue on Ukraine’s future.

There are always risks. There is a strong desire for peace in the Ukrainian society. specific clauses of the special status for Donbas (such as amnesty for combatants or institutionalizing separatist armed units as “people’s militia”) are not popular. The lack of majority support for the Ukrainian government has not been the main reason it has evaded implementing the Minsk agreements. It has never been an obstacle for the campaign for NATO membership, and even less popular nationalist or neoliberal policy. Importantly, the Minsk agreements were not a result of military defeats. However, most Ukrainians support them. supportedThey were signed in 2015, shortly after they were signed. It is not because the accords are unacceptable, but because there has been little progress and ineffectiveness in bringing Ukraine peace.

But, the explicit threat of violence articulated by the nationalist civil society leading the so-called “anti-capitulation” protests. They were quite small and only 26 % of Ukrainians supported them. expressedWhile 41 percent supported the protests, 41 percent were clearly against them. Nevertheless, they stalled further progress in implementing the Minsk accords after initial successes that followed Zelensky’s landslide victory in the 2019 election.

At stake, however, is not the “capitulation” of Ukraine, but of a very specific nation-building project for Ukraine, where Russia plays the role of the main “Other,” against which the adepts of the project articulate their national identity. The problem with this project is that the attempted assimilation of Ukraine’s internal cultural and political diversity (to repeat the problematic path of how the modern Western nations were constructed since the 19th century) is incompatible with how many people see democracy today. Arguably, it is as incompatible as replay of the Great Power politics from the “golden age” of imperialism. This nation-building project, however, is not possible under current conditions as it will not be supported through parallel modernization processes. This cannot be repeated. “turning peasants into Frenchmen”This is because the Communist Party fulfilled this task for Ukraine many decades ago. It is not surprising that the fundamentally anticommunist civil society of Ukraine has failed to unify its nation despite numerous attempts. three revolutionswithin the lifetime of one generation and supposedly mobilizing threats from abroad. The attempts to advance this nation-building project have not solved the problem but only intensified it. post-Soviet crisisof political representation

It is possible to see a different, pluralistic Ukraine becoming a stronger and more dialogical sovereign bridge between Europe/Russia. To get there, recognizing Ukraine’s political diversity and establishing conditions for institutionally protected national dialogue among Ukrainians with opposing views are vital. It is not clear if it is necessary for anyone other than Ukrainians.