On the British "security deal." What Ukraine can expect

Rishi Sunak and Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Rishi Sunak and Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Let's set the record straight about the British "security agreement," which is destined to be the first of several.

There is a single, truly effective formula for security guarantees for Ukraine, which is formulated as follows: those who want reliable security guarantees and sustainable peace for Ukraine think about Ukraine's membership in NATO, and all other security formats are about preparing for a new war.

Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened with the "Agreement on Security Cooperation between Ukraine and the United Kingdom" of January 12, 2024. We dare to say that the same fate awaits all other "agreements" to be signed between Ukraine and other states.

Let's dot the i's and cross the t's on the British "security agreement" that is destined to be the first of several.

Why was it decided to sign the agreement now? The symbolic importance of signing a security agreement between Ukraine and the United Kingdom within this timeframe is justified by the general depressing international communication background regarding the prospects for ending the Ukrainian-Russian war, the failure of the highly publicized counteroffensive by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and the difficulty of further increasing military and financial assistance to Ukraine from key allies, including the United States. The Agreement was an attempt to return the focus of international attention to Ukraine, to provide a glimmer of hope, a positive trend, and the continuity of overall international support for Ukraine. In addition, against the backdrop of the beginning of the Western military campaign in the Red Sea and the presidential elections in Taiwan, the Agreement was supposed to be proof of the West's determination to fight dictatorships and protect the international legal order.

The signing of the agreement should also bring certain advantages for the domestic political situation in Britain and the White House's ability to convince Republicans in the US Congress to support Ukraine. By the way, the conclusion of such "historic" agreements is a common practice in London. Similar documents have been signed recently with Japan, Kenya, Senegal, Estonia, etc.

Thus, we have a modernized version of the Budapest Memorandum

2. Without security guarantees: the signed document is in no way a "security guarantee," not so much in "words" as in "consequences," since the only effectual security guarantee for Ukraine can be Article 5 of the Washington Treaty (establishing NATO). The signed Agreement does not bring us closer to NATO membership, despite its provisions on the Euro-Atlantic perspective and Britain's support for our path to NATO. The Agreement creates an alternative to our membership in the Alliance for the next 10 years. It directs discussions in the Western political establishment away from inviting Ukraine to join the Washington Treaty and toward reflections on the optimal scope and formats of "security assistance." Therefore, the January 12 Agreement is a shot at Ukraine's success at the NATO Washington Summit.

Unfortunately, the conclusion of this agreement has actually crossed out the rather promising idea of creating a trilateral political and security regional alliance between Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Poland. Establishing such a strategic triangle, which was seriously discussed in 2022, would be a significant step forward in repelling Russian aggression and working together for European security.

3. The shadow of the Budapest Memorandum: The signed agreement is based on the basic Strategic Partnership Agreement between Ukraine and the UK, signed on October 8, 2020, which "remains the basis for bilateral cooperation" (a clear reference is made). At the same time, the 2020 Treaty recognizes "the importance and effectiveness of the security assurances contained in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum". In other words, the agreement confirms the validity of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum for Ukraine even after a full-scale Russian invasion in 2022. Thus, we have a modernized version of the Budapest Memorandum (in a bilateral format).

4. No legal obligations: an obvious drawback of the concluded document is the lack of a ratification procedure, which raises doubts about its legally binding nature. The question arises as to the so-called legal purity of the document for Kyiv, since according to the Law of Ukraine, "On International Treaties" (in particular, in the interpretation of Article 9 on political cooperation and military assistance), it is necessary to ratify it. We consider paragraph 7, which provides for Ukraine to provide "effective military assistance" to the UK in the event of external aggression against it.

The document is more like a memorandum, declaration, or protocol of intent to develop the 2020 basic agreement in terms of structure, content, and wording. Interestingly, a document of a similar form and language, signed between London and Tel Aviv in 2023, is called a "road map." It also does not use the term "shall" (except once, in the field of culture), which is typical for legally binding documents, as in the case of the 2020 bilateral agreement. Instead, the terms "would" and "will" are used.

An essential component of giving solidity and a precise international legal dimension to the document would be to provide for the procedure for its international registration with the UN in accordance with Article 102 of the UN Charter.

Regarding specific commitments on the part of the British side, the only one is the obligation to provide Ukraine with 2.5 billion pounds in 2024, for which we are grateful to the British side. However, this is all. There are no guarantees about assistance prospects for the next 9 years. At the same time, as an example, one of the UK's "core security commitments" - "support for future integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions" - looks a bit strange.

5. Minimum "maximum level" of security: if we put aside the victorious political statements on both sides, we must admit that the document has become a fixation of the maximum level of support (a kind of fixation of the current level) that influential international players are ready to provide us. It is unlikely that any other of our partners will be ready to strengthen the agreement with clear, legally binding wording.

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Therefore, this document is a signal, first and foremost, to Ukraine that it is necessary to intensify efforts to explain the existential risks to the international order posed by Russia. This agreement should not become another argument for the authorities to reassure Ukrainian society that the struggle will become easier or less difficult.

6. Lack of an effective mechanism for deterring aggression: the agreement does not stipulate that Russia's new aggression against Ukraine will not occur, or that the parties will do everything to prevent it. It recognizes the potential for further aggression and, accordingly, the need to prepare for it. Only strengthening defense, in the commitment to joint action with allies, can stop the aggressor. Only building the resilience of the Ukrainian state is the key to our victory. We must also do everything necessary to make Ukraine an indispensable partner for the Free World because even in the second year of the full-scale invasion, we see that our Western partners are not ready to go beyond the security assurances of the Budapest Memorandum.

The positive aspects of the agreement include the following:

A reminder that the war is not over and the need to support Ukraine in repelling Russian aggression. London emphasizes that repulsing aggression requires not only political statements of support, but also the allocation of specific resources. This is an essential positive impetus against the backdrop of the financial discussions that are taking place on the other side of the Atlantic. London must repeatedly act as a driver for unblocking certain issues related to our country's supply of weapons systems. Let's hope Britain's leadership will come in handy this time around.

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The media effect of signing the document, primarily in the West. Given that the UK is an active member of the coalition to protect trade in the Red Sea, Prime Minister Sunak's visit to Ukraine was an important signal that neither the war in the Middle East, the Yemeni crisis, nor the elections in Taiwan should mean less attention to Ukraine, as Russia is counting on.

War is not an excuse not to implement reforms. Ukraine is committed to implementing them, particularly in the rule of law, fighting corruption, ensuring the independence of anti-corruption structures, avoiding political interference, modernizing the economy, increasing investor confidence, and creating fair and equal opportunities for all. This vital point preserves an element of conditionality for Kyiv, and, thus, confidence that the collective West will not allow Ukraine to stray from its democratic path. Our country must emerge from this war stronger, including in the areas of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

Thus, the agreement fixes the level of support that we can count on at this stage. Unfortunately, by signing the agreement, a dangerous precedent has been set when other partners will not go beyond it and, in fact, refuse to fix the "unprecedented security guarantees" for Ukraine declared by the Bank. After all, other partners will follow the logic of this document. The widely publicized promises that Ukraine would be provided with security guarantees turned out to be a myth. However, this is no reason to be euphoric or to sprinkle ashes on our heads. This is a clear signal that we must roll up our sleeves to continue our active and responsible work based on professionalism, inclusiveness, and internal unity.

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