Rajan Menon: For Security, Ukraine Needs an Army, the West—and China

(Day Donaldson/ Flickr/ CCLicense)

Author of New Book on Ukraine Conflict Urges Careful Priorities for Kyiv

Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Rajan Menon, chairman of political science at the City College of New York, has just co-authored a new book, Conflict in Ukraine, with Eugene Rumer of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The book, to be published in March by MIT Press, occasioned a discussion this week between Menon and Ukraine specialist Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University.

Here are key points by Menon in his interview by Motyl on the World Affairs Journal website:

Ukraine’s needs to rebuild a relationship with Russia: “An isolated, nationalistic, and authoritarian Russia isn’t what Europe needs—and it’s certainly not good for Ukraine. Ukraine cannot afford to be in a perpetual state of war with Russia, if only because no Western soldier will ever be dispatched to die for Ukraine.”

It’s not certain that Ukraine can accomplish radical reforms: While Ukraine’s new government is headed by able, smart leaders, Menon says that is not enough. “It’s insufficient for reforms to be economically “correct”; they must be politically sustainable and introduced in the proper sequence, with provisions for softening their most malign effects.”

Kyiv should avoid trying to recover the Russian-held Donbas: A priority for the government should be “not dwelling on recapturing the so-called Donbas republics, to say nothing of Crimea,” Menon tells Motyl. “The loss of these lands, which have been anti-reform bastions, is a blessing in disguise for Ukraine. … Ukraine is now ethnically more homogeneous: that is a huge plus given its particular circumstances.”

Ukraine should rebuild its army, drop plans to join NATO and build relations with China: Menon urges Kyiv to build a “small professional force” shaped for defense against further Russian invasions. And “besides cultivating ties with the West, increase trade and investment with China so that it gains a strategic stake in Ukraine,” he says. Also, “Ukraine should renounce NATO membership,” notably because the alliance will not admit Ukraine as a member in any near future. Thus, “Kyiv loses nothing by relinquishing something it won’t get. … A no-NATO pledge combined with a no-forces-zone [in the disputed Donbas] patrolled by peacekeepers and observers can bolster Ukraine’s security and allay Russia’s main strategic concern.”