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Ex-Nato chief proposes Ukraine joins without Russian-occupied territories

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A former Nato secretary general has put forward a proposal for Ukraine to join the military alliance but stripped of the territories occupied by Russia.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen has long worked alongside Andriy Yermak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, particularly ahead of the last Nato summit in Vilnius this year that ended with no invitation for Ukraine to join.

The two men are again broadly discussing Ukraine’s place in a new European security architecture, including practical questions around the extent of Ukraine’s Nato membership.

Rasmussen, who was Nato’s secretary general between 2009 and 2014, insisted that a plan for partial Ukraine membership would not symbolise a freezing of the conflict, but would instead mark a determination to warn Russia that it cannot prevent Ukraine joining the western defensive alliance.

Nato is due to hold its 75th anniversary summit in Washington next summer, and the issue of Ukraine’s future membership is bound to be a major topic.

Ukraine’s leadership was left bitterly disappointed when, under US and German pressure, Nato at its summit this year issued a statement saying Ukraine would be offered an invitation when conditions allowed, effectively rejecting Ukraine’s request to be given a specific date.

Instead, Ukraine’s relationship with Nato was elevated on the margins by setting up a Ukraine-Nato council and through an agreement that Nato members bilaterally would offer security guarantees to Ukraine.

Rasmussen said the cause of Ukraine’s Nato membership cannot be deferred again next year. He said: “The time has come to take the next step and extend an invitation for Ukraine to join Nato. We need a new European security architecture in which Ukraine is in the heart of Nato.”

Those advocating for Ukraine’s Nato membership have been hamstrung by the near-impossibility of a country at war being offered membership, since under Nato’s article 5 clause of collective self-defence, all Nato member states are required to come to the active defence of the country in conflict. Nato membership for all of Ukraine now would in effect be a notice to Russia by Nato that it was about to go to war with Moscow.

By excluding from Nato territory held by Russia, the threat of a Russia-Nato conflict would be reduced, Rasmussen argues.

Rasmussen denied the move would freeze the conflict, ceding Ukrainian territory to Russia. He said: “The absolute credibility of article 5 guarantees would deter Russia from mounting attacks inside the Ukrainian territory inside Nato and so free up Ukrainian forces to go to the frontline.”

He said: “To make article 5 credible there would have to be a clear message to Russia that any violation of Nato territory would be met by a response.” He said in some ways the proposal is similar to imposing a no-fly zone on Russia so that it could not fly over Ukrainian territory or send missiles into Ukrainian towns.

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Discussions are under way to enlist military specialists ahead of the next Nato summit to work through the details of their idea, including how in the context of shifting frontlines a credible demarcation line could be drawn, showing Ukrainian territory deemed inside Nato and territory occupied by Russia.

Rasmussen said an imprecise precedent existed since west Germany joined the alliance in 1955, and article 5 covered its territory but not that of east Germany.

He set out three principal reasons for Ukraine to be offered membership. Ukraine inside Nato would act as a bulwark against a still-aggressive Russia. Second, he said: “We have to realise that grey zones are danger zones. Neutrality in the old sense of the world does not exist any more. Grey zones become a temptation for Putin to attack.” Finally, he argued the Ukrainian army is now the most battle hardened army in Europe and would be an asset and example to other European powers.

He said a total of 25 countries in addition to the countries inside the G7 were negotiating bilateral security agreements with Ukraine as part of an umbrella agreement called the Kyiv security compact that is supposed to act as a bridge to full Nato membership. The compact includes large-scale weapons transfers, enhanced intelligence sharing and support to Ukraine’s defence industry so that it can more independently produce weapons and ammunition.

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