August 23rd. On this day in 1939 Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia signed the Non-Aggression Pact” which not only paved the way for Hitler’s September 1st invasion of Poland but also set the scene for the most climactic event of the twentieth century – the June 22nd, 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. It was as cold and calculated an exercise in cynicism and hypocrisy as any in Europe’s long and undistinguished history of hypocrisy. The Pact gave time to both Berlin and Moscow in return for Poland’s land. Is something similar about to happen in Ukraine?
There is a phrase that always raises my concerns: “The official policy is…”. It normally means there is an unofficial policy which is pretty much the opposite of that stated in public. That is precisely why last week there was a micro-frenzy when a senior NATO official appeared to suggest that Ukraine might have to accept the loss of land to Russia in return for membership of the Alliance. For the record, he did not say that. The official in question is known to me and he is the consummate professional. The person chairing the meeting at which he is alleged to have suggested is also one of my closest friends. The suggestion, such as it was, took place as part of a two-hour panel discussion as one of many scenarios that might transpire given the nature, scope, and levels of support for Ukraine. What the reaction did reveal is how many governments are indeed thinking along those lines.
There are certain realities that Ukraine and its Western partners must now confront. As I suggested in May, and despite the heroic efforts of Ukrainian forces, the Ukrainian counter-offensive is stalling because it never had the necessary military weight to break the Russian land bridge in eastern and southern Ukraine, let alone re-take Crimea. At the forthcoming meeting of NATO defence ministers in October it will also become apparent that the Allies have already given 90% of what they are going to give Ukraine, whether it is delivered as promised or not. As the Rasputitsa or General Mud begins to impose itself the war will become a stalemate. The question will then become what the Alliance and its fellow travellers can do for Ukraine come the spring and the new campaign season. A season, I might add, that will coincide with NATO’s 75th anniversary celebrations in Washington.