Ukraine has offered neutrality in talks with Russia – what would that mean?

Ukraine says it may accept neutral country status if the West provides binding security guarantees but legal hurdles remain

Ukraine has offered to accept becoming neutral if it receives adequate security guarantees from western nations, abandoning aspirations to join Nato. But those moves would require amending the constitution or a referendum, neither of which can be done in wartime, analysts say.

What is neutrality?

Under international law, a country is neutral if it won’t interfere in situations of international armed conflict involving other belligerent parties. It cannot allow a belligerent party to use its territory as a base of military operations, take sides or supply military equipment.

What has Zelenskiy said?

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy acknowledged on 15 March that Ukraine was not able to join Nato.

“We’ve heard for years that the door is open, but we also heard that we can’t join. That’s the truth we much recognise,” Zelenskiy said in remarks seen as abandoning Ukraine’s Nato aspirations and considered by some Ukrainians as an unacceptable concession.

At peace talks in Turkey on Tuesday, Ukrainian negotiators said Kyiv was ready to accept neutrality if, under an international accord, western states like the United States, France and Britain provided binding security guarantees.

However, Ukraine’s aspiration to join Nato is written in the country’s constitution, which cannot be amended during martial law, as is in effect now, or during a state of emergency.

Could Ukraine change its constitution?

Any change would require approval of the measure by 300 out of 450 lawmakers in two separate parliamentary sessions, and then be validated by the constitutional court.

“There aren’t the 300 votes today, but if the conflict continues and we see that Nato isn’t helping, opinions could change,” said Ukrainian political scientist, Volodymyr Fesenko.

“Zelenskiy’s disappointment with insufficient Nato aid is shifting public opinion. For us, Nato is the simplest and least painful concession,” he added.

What do Ukrainians want?

According to the latest survey conducted by the Rating polling firm earlier this month, 44% of Ukrainians feel that their country should join Nato, a drop of two percentage points from the poll done in February before the Russian invasion began.

Some 42% believe Ukraine should continue to cooperate with Nato but not join.

“The Ukrainians want to join Nato, but if Europe offers EU membership and proposes a financial package to rebuild Ukraine, the Nato debate could be forgotten for a while,” said Mykola Davydiuk, a Kyiv-based political analyst.

“If Britain, France and the United States – three nuclear powers – provide security guarantees, such an alliance would be stronger than integration into Nato,” he added.

Ukrainian negotiators in Turkey on Tuesday compared the security guarantees they want to the Nato treaty’s Article 5 where members agree to come to the defence of one another in case of military aggression.

With Agence-France Presse

Staff and agencies

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