This is a moment when the maximum amount of consolidation of society is very important for the survival of both Georgia and Ukraine

Opinion piece (Europe Time)
21 January 2022

ET: What are your expectations from the dialogue between the US and its allies and Russia? 
My expectations are very low because the two sides are talking about completely different subjects. We had the extension of the New START treaty at the very beginning of Biden's period of office.

But still, some arms control work could usefully be done, on shorter-range nuclear weapons. Some replacement of the INF treaty with effective verification – which is something we haven’t had in recent times.

Also, restoring the confidence-building measures we used to have, which Russia blocked a few years ago, on notifying military exercises and allowing international observers to see what is going on and make sure nothing threatening is being done. As for the recent agenda, what Russia wants cannot possibly be on the agenda, which involves the US saying that NATO will not accept new members like Georgia or Ukraine and other countries that want to join.

ET: What do you think about Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO or accelerating the process in the face of Russian aggression?
At this stage, much as I might think the membership of Georgia and Ukraine would be a good thing, it is not going to happen very quickly and, with the position of countries like Germany and France, it is probably not going to happen at all. So it seems to me that there are a number of steps that both Georgia and Ukraine can take.

First, both Georgia and Ukraine are internally divided at a time when they need internal solidarity. I am not going to say who is to blame for this. But Saakasvhili has been arrested. Poroshenko is threatened with arrest or prison time in Ukraine. It seems to me that this is a moment when the maximum amount of consolidation of society is very important for the survival of both Georgia and Ukraine.

The second thing is that, in terms of cooperation with the EU and NATO, both Georgia and Ukraine have to make the maximum effort to reach NATO and EU standards. That will help the countries economically and also in military terms. And the third is in terms of developing bilateral relationships; for example, the UK sent anti-tank missiles to Ukraine yesterday to assist the Ukrainians.

ET: What steps should be taken by Ukraine and Georgia?
I think both Ukraine and Georgia need to prioritize what the most important things are that the military forces do not have. They need to identify them, with NATO countries or other countries as well, to prioritize which systems and what training they most need, and then go to countries bilaterally and try to get them to provide that assistance. It seems to me that both Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova need to make themselves as resilient as possible to deter any kind of Russian aggression.

There is no question that it is a crucial time for European security. This is the most dangerous time we have seen since a long time ago. Putin sees weakness in the west and in the countries he is facing. He sees internal political divisions and sees Georgia and Ukraine as weak, and he sees Biden as a weak president facing a divided US. And we have a presidential election coming up in France, and France is quite distracted.

We have a new government in Germany that is still trying to work out what its policies are. And in the UK, we have a country that is weaker because of Brexit and is internally divided because of Brexit. So I think Putin probably sees this moment as an opportunity. That makes it a very dangerous period for European security.

If you look at the size of the Russian economy, it is very small compared with the economies of NATO countries. So the question is, can NATO use the advantages that it has? If it does so, then it should be able to deter any further misbehavior from Putin. But if NATO countries all go in different directions, playing different games, then we will be much weaker.

Ian Bond joined the Centre for European Reform as director of foreign policy in April 2013. Prior to that, he was a member of the British diplomatic service for 28 years.

His most recent appointment was as political counselor and joint head of the foreign and security policy group in the British Embassy, Washington (2007-12), where he focused on US foreign policy towards Europe, the former Soviet Union, Asia, and Africa. He was British Ambassador to Latvia from 2005-07, receiving a CVO (Commander of the Royal Victorian Order) for his work on the Queen’s state visit in 2006.