Only NATO or Nukes Can Save Ukraine From Russia: Estonia Foreign Minister

Estonia's foreign minister urged NATO allies not to exclude Ukraine from the transnational alliance in exchange for peace with Russia, warning that doing so would strand Ukraine in a "grey zone" in which its only means of deterring further aggression from Moscow would be increasingly devastating weapons.

Urmas Reinsalu told Newsweek that the NATO alliance cannot ignore Kyiv's accession ambitions—which he said remains the "elephant in the room"—while Russian revanchism poses a threat to Ukraine.

National leaders and NATO officials have defended the alliance's "open door" policy, refusing Russian demands to exclude Ukraine and repeatedly assuring Kyiv that it will one day be welcomed into the transatlantic bloc, though stressing accession should be a long-term goal.

Reinsalu, now in his second stint as Estonia's foreign minister, told Newsweek that NATO's commitment to its "open door" policy and eventual Ukrainian membership is "far from being enough."

"If we say that we would not in practice see Ukraine as a member of NATO after this war, it would mean that we are afraid—or predict that—Russia will attack again and then NATO countries will be involved in a world war, or at least a war over the European continent," Reinsalu said.

 Urmas Reinsalu
Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu talks to media before an EU Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting in the Europa, the EU Council headquarter on November 14, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

"This is already admitting that large-scale war will repeat itself. And this is something that I think is very dangerous from our perspective, that we are already admitting that we have not tamed [the danger], or we don't know the outcome of the current war."

Kyiv has never dropped its goal of NATO membership, an ambition that is enshrined in the national constitution and has record levels of support among Ukrainian voters.

NATO will not allow Ukrainian accession in the midst of a war. Ukrainian officials have proposed the Kyiv Security Compact as an interim arrangement by which NATO nations can better aid the country while avoiding direct conflict with Russia. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's office has stressed that this is not intended as a substitute for full NATO membership.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the United Kingdom, France and Germany have proposed a tripartite security pact with Ukraine in lieu of NATO membership. The leaders of the three nations reportedly raised the offer with Zelensky during his February visit to Europe.

The plan would reportedly allow advanced NATO weapons to be sent to Ukraine but would not offer Kyiv protection under the alliance's Article Five collective defense clause, nor deploy NATO troops on Ukrainian soil.

"I don't buy it," Reinsalu said of the reported proposal. "We already had this with the famous Budapest Memorandum," he added, referring to the 1994 deal through which Ukraine surrendered Soviet-era nuclear warheads in exchange for security assurances from Russia, the United States, and the U.K.

"You can't copy NATO," Reinsalu said. "What's the point of trying to copy NATO if you are making it clear that it is not NATO? It's like a half-NATO. I would be rather suspicious of that replica."

Volodymyr Zelensky Speaks With NATO
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen above on a giant screen as he delivers a speech during the NATO Parliamentary Assembly annual session held in Madrid on November 21, 2022. NATO will not allow Ukraine to join in the midst of its war with Russia. OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images

"Honestly, the only guarantee except NATO would be to deliver nuclear weapons to Ukraine," Reinsalu said, stressing that such a move is impossible, and undesirable, given the anti-proliferation commitments of NATO's nuclear powers.

"This is an academic remark on the context of these proposals, which guarantees would practically deliver and which would not," he added.

Leaving Ukraine outside the West's security umbrella, Reinsalu said, would leave Kyiv in limbo and undermine the country's recovery.

"Imagine we are not giving Article Five-based guarantees to Ukraine after the war," he said. "So, we will then encourage Ukraine to establish their self-defense in a 'hedgehog strategy,' like they are in the Wild West, standing in their fort with rifles and waiting for Russia.

"I think it will create a grey zone in the midst of Europe. It would be a grand negative signal on their aspirations towards the European Union, from the security perspective, about investment assurances, and everything else."