Why is Putin afraid of Ukraine’s joining NATO: ‘5 questions’ with political scientist Andriy Kucher

Photo nato.int

During the visit to the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with heads of governments of Austria, Belgium and Spain, and at these meetings asked these countries to support Ukraine’s future accession to the EU. He also said that Ukraine is ready for any format of negotiations with the Russian Federation to resolve the situation in Donbas.

Will Putin agree to such negotiations and why is he using the situation in Donbas as a lever of pressure on Ukraine? Political scientist Andriy Kucher speculated on the topic on air of the ‘5 Questions’ program on UA TV channel.

Oleh Borysov hosts the program.

— Will Russia agree to negotiations with Ukraine?

— Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he would not mind meeting with Zelenskyy. However, he does not understand what is the point of such a meeting, since the Russian Federation is allegedly not a party to the conflict. This thesis is being heard more and more in the Russian media, therefore, I think, the question of the effectiveness of such a meeting is more important here, since Putin should be ready and have a certain solution in order to meet with Zelenskyy. 

We have a question about the prisoners of war, it is standing still after the last exchange of prisoners. We have a question of escalation at the border. Therefore, to go (to negotiations – ed.) without a decision is all in vain. Therefore, in order to come to Putin with such a decision, in my opinion, a series of meetings, such as a videoconference between Biden and Putin, should take place, so that there is a concrete decision. Only then Zelenskyy will be able to come and negotiate.  

After all, let’s imagine that Zelenskyy comes to Putin, they meet, and nothing happens. The president’s rating may collapse. Therefore, such things need to be thought out in order to have a real effect. And in what format – whether it will be an expansion of the Normandy format or a meeting against the background of some other conference – this is already a secondary issue. Therefore, it is important to understand that Putin also has an understanding of how to resolve a specific issue, and not just talk.

— You talked about efficiency. Will such meetings help to achieve it?

— There is no one panacea. This is a set of works. We have a situation where there is a hybrid war, and its initiator is a rather unpredictable and totalitarian leader. Therefore, one needs to ring all the bells and try as much as possible to attract all the attention.

In Europe, other countries have their own problems, they have their own national interests and they may not have time for Ukraine. But it is very important, and I think that this is the future – to attract as much as possible international attention to Ukraine, to solving the problem, to the fact that Russia can attack Ukraine, and this is a threat to everyone else. Not only to the neighbors, but in general – to the stability of both Europe and the world. Therefore, I think that only by drawing out to meetings, to real polemics of international partners, it is possible to achieve some kind of pressure on Putin.

We work only in the diplomatic direction. We need to take a comprehensive approach – military, diplomatic economic. Any method suits us, if only to resolve the situation in Donbas.

— Ukrainian army is moving towards NATO standards, and membership in the Alliance is one of Ukraine’s foreign policy priorities. At the same time, Putin uses Donbas and the escalation of the conflict as a lever to put pressure on Ukraine and the world. Is there any way to fix this situation?

— This is why Putin created the situation in Donbas – that is to impose pressure. Because speaking of the situation in Transnistria, which was created according to a similar scenario, there is nothing to take advantage of. And Donbas is closer to Europe, and Ukraine is the center of Europe, so this is a more effective method.

Putin’s favorite tool is blackmail. He constantly escalates the situation, gives some negative impulses. As soon as something does not please Putin, he can aggravate the situation in Donbas, and thus divert attention from some of his problems.

Putin knows and understands the problems of Europe, although he cooperates with Europe. He seems not to be against the European Union, but, nevertheless, he clearly hits the sore spots of the European Union. ‘Nord Stream-2’, increase in gas prices, migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border. However, none of the European countries can react harshly to this. Except for Britain, because it is less dependent on cooperation with the Russian Federation.

All this suggests that Putin continues to use triggers. And these triggers are working. Therefore, unfortunately, in our situation we are hostages and are simply an instrument for the Russian Federation.

Most of all, Putin is afraid that NATO will enter Ukraine and place military bases and installations here. Even if we conduct military exercises, it is not good for Putin because it would be considered a loss in domestic situation for him. Therefore, his main requirement is to prevent NATO from entering the territory of Ukraine. He has already closed his eyes to Ukraine’s European integration course. I mean economically, but militarily, he will demand very strongly that Ukraine does not join NATO.