U.S. and allies negotiating security guarantees for Ukraine

“The U.S. is in talks with Ukraine and our allies and partners on how we can reassure Ukraine about their long-term security to deter any future aggression for after this war ends,” a National Security Council spokesperson confirmed. The official was not authorized to use their name when providing this statement to the press.

Still, “these negotiations and discussions are ongoing but they haven’t reached any particular fruition, as of yet, because there’s no doubt that this is also a very, very complicated issue,” said a European official who wasn’t authorized to speak to media.

The Financial Times was first to report on the discussions, which even some allies are upset about.

“The real security guarantee is provided only by the alliance,” said the European official, “and any temporary arrangements cannot be sold as replacements for full membership, which provides a collective guarantee of countries to each other and which is, I would say, the strongest available guarantee in Europe.”

And some U.S. lawmakers also aren’t sure that focusing on providing security guarantees outside of the alliance right now is wise. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), co-chair of the NATO Observer Group, said he’d prefer NATO send a “strong message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin by having all allies meet their 2 percent defense-spending obligation. “Then we can have a discussion about security agreements, after the facts on the ground [in Ukraine] change.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked that a timetable for Ukraine’s NATO membership and alliance-provided security guarantees be extended at next month’s summit in Vilnius. But all signs point to him getting none of his wishes. “I think the allies now are in agreement that a proper invitation is unlikely while they’re engaged in a full-scale war,” Julianne Smith, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told POLITICO last week.

In the meantime, lawmakers in the U.S. are offering some ideas on how to defend Ukraine for the long term. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested elevating the NATO-Ukraine Commission to a “Council,” thereby giving Kyiv the authority to call for alliance meetings and allowing more for intelligence sharing.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close confidante of President Joe Biden, noted certain security guarantees were already extended to Ukraine in the “Budapest Memorandum” after the country turned over nuclear weapons following the Soviet Union’s collapse. We’re “back to the future,” he said in an interview.

Outside of the complexities of any arrangement, what remains unclear is the appetite for each of the four countries to abide by their promises.

“Security guarantees for Ukraine, it seems to me, would never be credible, since we have refused to fight directly for Ukraine in its time of greatest peril,” said Ben Friedman, policy director at the restraint-oriented Defense Priorities think tank. “Why would that change later just because of a paper promise?”