In international relations there can never be an entirely satisfactory outcome from a situation without either party resorting to conflict. That route and destination is an outcome that nobody would look forward to in Europe, especially as we enter the 70th year since the last conflict ended on that region’s territory.
The people of Ukraine expressed a strong preference for their state to join the European Union in preference to reinforcing ties with Russia. From joining the EU a natural next step would be for the Ukraine to join NATO. The Ukraine has now made an application to join NATO.
To Russia a political and economic union of Ukraine to Europe via the European Union made them uncomfortable as what was once a physical buffer between two ideologies would be further degraded. Russia has lost a lot of territory to Western Europe and although there is a degree of inevitability that the Ukraine will join the EU it is an inevitability that Russia finds hard to accept.
With respect to NATO it is:
‘Committed to the principle that an attack against one or several members is considered as an attack against all’.
This is known as the principle of ‘collective defence’ which in NATO’s 65 year history, if using the signing of The Washington Agreement in 1949 as the start point, this been invoked once and that was in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA in 2003.
When Russia invaded the Crimea in 2014 and effectively grabbed territory from a neighbouring sovereign state it was not a knee jerk spur of the moment action. Its own foreign policy strategists must have been considering the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO in their calculations. Russia wanted to ensure that it secured a warm water port sooner rather than later. ‘Later’ meaning after Ukraine joined NATO.
Russia could not have carried out this action after Ukraine joined NATO without the fear of suffering military reprisals as NATO members acted to uphold the principle of collective defence.
Those same Russian strategists must also have considered what the reaction from the west was going to be following an invasion of Crimea. Whatever economic damage is now being inflicted on Russia caused by sanctions must have been considered as a lower cost to pay to secure that warm water port than a military conflict.
Russia has gained territory illegally in the legal framework of international law. Despite the illegality the seized territory, in all probability, will remain under Russian control for the foreseeable future. Russia’s idea of an entirely satisfactory outcome would have been if it seized Crimea and did not suffer any hardships from sanctions. The West’s entirely satisfactory outcome would have been if Russia had not seized territory and Ukraine continued along an uninterrupted path to joining the European Union and NATO.
Neither entirely satisfactory outcome has been achieved but what we now have is a situation of diluted satisfactions which is serving to maintain peace. It is also not a perfect outcome for any of the stakeholders but as with all international scenarios neither is it a perfect or a permanent state of affairs.