Monday, February 7, 2022

Can Ukraine Become A New Austria?

 In this Sunday's Washington Post, columnist David von Drehle suggests that a way out of the difficult Russia/Ukraine situation would be for Ukraine to become like what happened with Austria in 1955 and since; it formally became officially neutral, not joining either NATO or the Warsaw Pact, and has remained so since.   For Ukraine this would in effect grant Putin his demand that Ukraine not join NATO, although it would not involve pulling NATO back from such nations as Poland the Baltic states as he has also demanded.

It is easily forgotten that for ten years after WW II Austria was like Germany was iniitially: chopped into four zones of control, one of those in the east being Soviet, which included Vienna, but with Vienna, like Berlin, also chopped into four zones of control. In Germany, of course, at the end of the 40s the three parts of Germany plus those of Berlin controlled by US, UK, and France, combined to form German Federal Republic, aka West Germany, with the remnant Soviet parts becoming the German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany. Such an outcome did not happen in Austria, where the parts all remained separate until Austria was unified in 1955 with the agreement it would become a neutral state.

Many today only know of this period after the war if they see Carol Reed's film based on Graham Greene's novel from 1949, The Third Man, with Orson Welles in it, a great film for sure.  I remember visiting Vienna in 1958 and seeing lots of war damaged buildings then, since rebuilt.

That all sounds nice.  There is a problem, however. In 1955 the Soviet Union had not annexed a portion of Austria, and it agreed to let the part of Austria it controlled become a part of this newly neutral Austria. As it is today, Russia has invaded Ukraine twice, annexing one portion of it, Crimea, an act still unrecognized by practically any other nation, although Belarus's Lukashenka seems to be now referring to it as a done deal, if not officially so. And then we have the Russian-supported Donbass republics, also unrecognized as independent by anybody, not even Russia itself so far. 

So, to have any sort of equivalence to Austria, Russia would have to undo its annexation of Crimea and return it to Ukrainian control as well as withdraw support for the Luhansk and Donetsk republics.  Neither of these seems to be ready for proposal by Putin, especially the Crimean annexation, which was and remains popular in Russia, even if an invasion of Ukraine now looks not to be too popular.  And indeed, many think the diplomatic outcome he might accept is not withdrawing, but in fact regularizing and gaining acceptance of the status of the separatist republics.  

An Austrian outcome might well be the best possible one around, but as of now it does not look like Putin is about to offer anything that would look like what the former Soviet Union offered in 1955 in th case of Austria.  This looks like mostly nice talk, but not a likely outcome.

Addendum: Prior to WW I Austria was the core of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the war it became an independent republic with roughly its current borders.  in 1938 Hitler made it part of Germany with the Anschluss. Thus at the end of WW II it was separated from Germany and chopped up into those parts as was Germany. This is what presaged the 1955 deal that put it back together as an officially neutral state.

From the beginning of the UN, not only was the USSR a member of it, but also two of its parts, the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR, a deal Stalin cut when the organization was formed, although only the USSR held the Security Council seat, those two were only in the General Assembly. When USSR broke up, Russia inherited the USSR's Security Council seat.

There are three agreements regarding how Russia should deal with Ukraine, although two of those were signed by the USSR, not Russia per se. The first of those is indeed the UN Charter, with any member of the organization supposed to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of fellow members, with Ukraine actually such a member from 1945 on. Of course this is an agreement Russia did not sign itself, but supposedly is supposed to follow UN rules. 

Austria would join the UN in 1955 and agreeing not to join NATO. In 1975, the USSR would sign the Helsinki Accords, which allow nations to join whatever organization they wish to.  It is this agreement that is why NATO nations refuse to allow Russia to forbid Ukraine from joining NATO. However, as Austria and Finland have chosen not to, so Ukraine could choose to promise not to, if it were given sufficient motivation to do so by Russia.

Finally, there is the Budapest Accord of 1994, signed by US, UK, Russia, and Ukraine, when the latter gave up its roughly 2000 nuclear weapons. In that one Russia itself promised to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

As Johnny Carson used to say...I did not know that!

Anonymous said...

Assuming this is what Putin really wants. How much of this is a distraction from domestic problems that are piling up (including the now-public condemnation by the nationalist head of an informal officers' society)? How much of this is Putin wanting not a neutral Ukraine but a neutered Ukraine? His patterns is to have subordinate authoritarian regimes on his border to avoid any "liberal" contagion (Finland excepted for unique historical reasons)? Do Putin and the tight hawkish circle around him know what they really want?

marcel proust said...

Another concern: I have read at least one analysis that suggests Putin would like eastern Ukraine to remain part of that country rather than annexing it to Russia. The explanation is that the population in those regions views Russia considerably more favorable than in more western regions, so constrains the freedom of action of the central government in ways more favorable to the west.

Between the cartographic finagling of both Stalin and Khrushchev, aren't the current boundaries of Ukraine somewhat arbitrary, much like the colonial boundaries drawn in Africa and the Middle East? I have long been impressed by the way Czechia and Slovakia peacefully divorced, especially in light of the contemporaneous Balkan Wars. While such a peaceful outcome is no longer possible in Ukraine, it might well be best to try to approximate something like that as much as possible moving forward.

I am not sure what to make of the obvious parallels between such an outcome and Munich/the Sudeten Crisis

Anonymous said...

potsdam.... the unity of the ww ii alliance changed when fdr was no longer there to hold churchill down and restrain stalin from what he "thought" fdr agreed, that is an agricultural germany, with no heavy industry and permanently divided......

was the warsaw pact an answer to reunified germany or was nato answer to warsaw pact? the us line authored by the cold warriors is the "aggressor!"

i remeber the tv show the "bug picture" the topic often was the "aggressor", one i remeber well showed a mushroom cloud in the distance and implied a tactical war with nuclear artillery....

we will neither confirm nor deny how many nuke arty rounds were in special storage .... to be moved at short notice.

russia has always sought distance from france and germany....

would the world be same had fdr lived another couple of years?

wanting a warsaw pact nato is looking to occupy central europe like the austro-hungarians, likely with the same outcome.

might be that putin is planning like a 21st century tsar. said...


I do not know what Putin wants, and it seems nobody else does either, probably not even he himself. Something that worries me is that he seems to have become isolated in his long period of rule. Reportedly he spends most days at his dacha, only briefly meeting with a few people on most days. He may well have gotten into somewhat delusional views of the world. A sign of this is his July essay on Ukraine, which is frankly just over the top in its wildness. He declared the absolute unity of Russians and Ukrainians, even as he has spent lots of time and effort protecting Russians against Ukrainians in Ukraine.


I think there is no neat line in Ukraine, like there was in the former Czechoslovakia. Lots of reports now say that in places like Kharkiv where most people are native Russian speakers, where they were once very pro-Russia, that has changed. A lot of it has been Putin's invading of Ukraine. This has reportedly triggered Ukrainian nationalism among many of these Russian speakers. There is also the fact that the separatist republics are not at all appealing role models. They are messes. Why would anybody anywhere else in Ukraine want to be like them?

There is also Crimea, where pensioneers have done better since becoming part of Russia. But otherwise Crimea is not doing any better, and it may be those extra spending requirements why Putin seems uninterested in annexing the Donbas republics.

Anonymous said...


where would those nukes be today if the us and russia had not grabbed them and mostly dismantled them in a joint funded 'system' performed in russia with some tech advise from the us?

i do not think putin is losing it, see the full text of the joint statement with xi last week.

as to donetz/luhansk, i suspect you are right, ukraine should be burdened with the fruits of stalin's design.

and ukraine should keep the western provinces added after ww ii in which the austrains and latter poles had to deal with ukraine "nationalists" including ukrainian catholics (ruthian/polish) who bounced between rome and moscow over the centuries since 1000 ad.... depending on which larger nation had to deal with them.

anyone favoring (make the neocons happy) putting that mess in nato is more 'troubling' than putin... said...


Of course I was for getting rid of all those nukes that were not only in Ukraine, but also in Belarus and Kazakhstan. The three Budapest Accords were very good things, which is why it is basically awful that Putin has seen so ready to just throw them, or at least the one with Ukraine, into the toilet, which he already did in 2014 when he took Crimea and sent his guys into to take the Donbas republics, whose conquest was initially by Russians, although later locals were put in charge. I note that Kharkiv was also briefly seized by a similar bunch, but Ukrainian troops ejected them quickly.

Well, in terms of Putin losing it, do not know if you have heard about the important general in Russia who has publicly steppped forward to criticize an attack on Ukraine. I am hearing that a lot of those around Putin want him out and think he is losing it. Aside from all the sanctions that would come down if he invades, there is also the matter of what does he gain? He already does not like paying the higher pensions for the Crimeans he gobbled up. Does he also want to pay all those Ukrainians higher pensions? Or, I suppose he would not actually annex Ukraine, just install some Lukashenka type to run the place, although it looks highly unlikely he would be able to do that at all easily. said...


Don't forget that the statement out of Beijing is partly written by Xi and has a lot of things not in it, including any specific mention of Ukraine. It is more carefully crafted.

Of course where Xi supports Putin the most is in opposing enlargement of NATO. But then China is not a signatory to the Helsinki Accords, which allow nations to join any organization they choose. The bottom line remains: if Putin wants Ukraine to be like Austria, a neutral nation not in NATO, he must appeal to them and not try to get the NATO powers to force it on Ukraine. But he does not seem to be making any moves to appeal to them at all.

Anonymous said...

do you suggest the red army has a milley?

helsinki accords... where were you in 1975?

in 1992 gorby, would not trade berlin for moscow, agreed to unify germany... baker: 'not one inch east....' stalin was spinning in his grave.

i see biden needs some overseas diversion aside from killing isis kiddies al nusra in idlib (the entire province is a terro base).

i see no advantage to russia invading, unless some meathead ultra ukraine nationalist uses some of the weapons biden sent in donbas.......

if we get through the biden months w/o incinerating the world..... said...


The critic of Putin is retired General Leonid Ivashov. I hear that his Defense Minister Shoigu may be a hardliner encouraging the idea of invasion.

I take the Helsinki Accords quite personally. They are why I am married to my Russian wife.

Gorby was out by 1992. All over by then. The famous promise by Baker was about not moving NATO troops into the former East Germany after unification, which indeed has never happened. When that promise was made, the Warsaw Pact still existed. The promise has long been misrepresented by Russians. And, who cares if Stalin is turning in his grave? Let him.

No, I do not think any of this is about Biden wanting a distraction. He could easily live without this. Has way too much oh his plate, especially after the botched exit from Afghanistan, which may have encouraged Putin in all this. I think Biden would much rather work on getting BBB passed and similar stuff.

I agree that there is fundamentally no advantage to "Russia" to invading Ukraine. We are back to this being all about Putin and what is in his mind and what he wants, which we do not know. At a minimum as long as he is threatening to do so and puffing up NATO and the Ukrainians as the big potential aggressors, that distracts locals in Russia from complaining too much about various problems. I hope that he sees in the end that not only is invading bad for most of the Russian people, but probably in the end would be bad for him. Heck, I think it could bring about his overthrow.

Anonymous said...

Putin's big problem is that ultimately he is backed into a corner, now in more ways than one. Why he has taken these recent steps is not clear, except as a distraction from domestic issues (covid, economy, increasing repression) and miscalculations & misperceptions about Western responses (Brexit, new German coalition, Macron, Biden as weak). As if he's being fed idealized information from some in his hawkish circle (Patrushev? Narushkin? less certain it's Shoigu). He needs an out that keeps him looking strong, but it's going to have to be a big & creative compromise. With NATO digging its heels in...Also, Putin can't leave office. He has used the kompromat route against all his adversaries, real & imagined. If he backs away from power, then I guarantee there is plenty of kompromat against him and others could do to him what he did to the oligarchs who backed him in 1999.

That tactics that have served him best are: 1) use kompromat, and 2) weather the storm. He might try to wait and wait until someone in the Western alliance cracks (Macron?). There doesn't seem to be anyone in the inner circle willing & able to replace him (palace coup). The opposition is fragmented and hounded. Could be very, very messy. But what do you expect when this is a pretty cynical and cold-blooded gangster regime? said...

Well, indeed Putin has gotten himself into a corner of his own making. I note a comment appearing in a column in today's WaPo by David Ignatius. It is about Putin's relation with Xi Jinping, coming out of their friendly meeting at the Winter Olympics. According to him observers claim that Xi appears to be "skeptical of Putin's overbearing manner and disdain for rules."

This latter point is of especial interest. It reflects an important difference between Putin's Russia and Xi's China. The former is now fundamentally a regional power, despite pretensions to the contrary drawing on the memory of the former Soviet Union in the Cold War, while the latter is a global power with global concerns, basically now in a G-2 relation with the US in that category, with even the EU basically regional despite its economic size.

China has for some time been focused on its Belt and Road Initiative, which is a global initiative operating on most of the continents, with China now the leading outside nation, especially in Africa. This global perspective, combined with what is clearly a long time horion view, has the Chinese taking the idea of international rules somewhat more seriously than may be the case for Russia's Putin, who seems very much focused on his near abroad, the nations once part of or dominated by the former Soviet Union.

Another claim, somewhat disturbing but related, is that supposedly while Xi supposedly takes an unemotional rational view of all this, Putin has an emotional view of the Ukraine issue, with this somewhat flawed by some possible delusions. In particular he is supposedly like George W. Bush in regard to Iraq in thinking that if he sends his forces into Ukraine they will be "welcomed as liberators." That is pretty clearly a serious delusion at this point, if he really believes that.

He also somehow thinks he is on a "sacred" mission regarding all this. All I can say on that one is gag.

Calgacus said...

The late Freeman Dyson has an interesting expert account of the Austrian unification somewhere. Expert, because by his own admission there IIRC, it follows the definition of "expert" as being "someone who has already made all the mistakes", commenting on his own first writing about it. :-)