What would Ukraine’s “neutrality” mean? The Swedish, Austrian and Swiss examples

Condition sine qua non Russia to a possible peace deal, now taken over by Kiev, the issue of Ukraine’s neutrality will cloud the new negotiating session between the warlords on Monday in Turkey. An international neutrality nurtured by three references: Sweden, Austria and Switzerland. But each of them has given its national color to its incoherence, bathed in its particular history.

Last week, there was again no doubt. The issue of Ukraine’s neutrality will nevertheless occupy the center of discussions between Ukrainians and Russians in Turkey on Monday and Tuesday. On Sunday, during a video interview given by Volodymyr Zelensky to independent Russian media, the Ukrainian president reiterated the precondition for peace that Moscow had set: his country’s neutrality at the international level. However, he reaffirmed his desire to choose this path only if his fellow citizens gave him the mandate to do so in a referendum.

The actors of the international community now hope that this performance will be able to put an end to the first war on the European continent since the 1990s. However, this status would not be unusual: in Europe, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland claim it. Each in its own way, each according to its history. A triple reference that draws a complex definition of what this “neutrality” means.

“We are ready to accept it”

Russia was the first to talk about it, but Ukraine, hit by another murderous week on the front, is now taking up the idea. On Sunday, during a video interview with independent Russian journalists, Volodymyr Zelensky admitted: he now plans to make his country a “neutral” state.

“The security guarantee is the neutrality and nuclear-free status of our state,” he said, emphasizing, “This is the most important point we are ready to accept.”

The ex-comedian even allowed himself a touch of irony: “Besides, if I remember correctly, that’s why Russia started the war.” The sarcasm was intended as a transparent reference to the Russian Federation’s rage over Kiev’s possible rally to the Atlantic Alliance represented by NATO. A perspective that has moved uniquely after 32 days of conflict, to the point that it now appears to be a chimera.

And this eventual “neutrality” of Ukraine is now concentrating most of the world’s hopes as the new phase of peace talks between Russia and Kiev in Turkey opens on Monday.

“Hand stretched from Ukraine (on the issue of neutrality, editor’s note), on the other hand the fact that we ratify the annexation of the east and the end of the conquest of all of Ukraine, it could allow an exit upwards”, rated Patrick Sauce, editorial writer for BFMTV on international issues.

Against neutrality in “Ukrainian style”?

Still, it will be necessary to swallow with the Ukrainians this neutrality with the air of “neutralization”. Moreover, if Volodymyr Zelensky is now open to the possibility of assigning his country a duty of freedom of alliance, he has reiterated his desire to obtain the consent of his people in a referendum.

Yes, when Moscow first mentioned this orientation, it had been ignored by the plenipotentiaries in the camp opposite. Or rather, kyiv has so far claimed to offer its own model: “Ukrainians said to themselves: ‘If we want neutrality, it will be neutrality in Ukrainian style'”, recalls Patrick Sauce.

Because Russia has a pretty concrete idea of ​​the neutrality that it wants to force its enemy into. She thus suggested that Ukraine conform to the examples of Sweden and Austria, which preclude the formation of any military alliance with other nations. Two European neutrals to which we cannot help but add the Swiss position. But these three cases come from different stories and logics.

Sweden and its paradoxical neutrality

This is the first reference that Russia raised and perhaps the most surprising: Sweden. This originality is already due to the fact that Swedish neutrality is more tacit than official. The fact is that since 1814 and the conclusion of its participation in the sixth coalition against Napoleon and in the war against the Danish neighbor, Sweden has refrained from entering into any conflict.

137 years later – in 1951 therefore – the then Foreign Minister Oesten Unden explained the peculiarity of Swedish neutrality. He made it flow directly from the national spirit, but saw a new justification for it in the binary context of the post-war period: “It is a foreign thought for the Swedish people to join a huge military alliance. Our perception is also influenced of the feeling that a new orientation of traditional Swedish politics would increase the number of points of friction between East and West “.

His following remark has a unique echo today: “Sweden’s accession to the Atlantic Treaty would lead one to believe that the United States would have moved their positions to the borders of the Soviet Union.”

“To speak of neutrality in the sense of indifference to conflicts between other powers is to misuse the word,” Oesten Unden pointed out, however.

Of this action: faithful to the maxim of his former head of diplomacy, Sweden expressed its goodwill towards Ukraine from the beginning of the current war, and announced – as mentioned Le Figaro – 5000 anti-tank rocket launchers and 5000 helmets and bulletproof vests. She even promised 50 million euros in humanitarian aid in addition to these military raw materials.

It is true that Swedish “neutrality” is more a free figure than a forced figure. Freed from the Soviet shadow, the kingdom has continued to enter into new circles since the 1990s: already a member of the United Nations, a permanent partner (but not a member) of NATO, it has again become a member of the European Union in 1995. The growing tensions from the international scene are encouraging it to bite more and more on its reserve.

The annexation of Crimea in 2014 led to a noticeably harsher tone: after re-equipping its troops and restoring military service, Sweden now wants to increase its military spending to 2% of its GDP by 2030.

The Austrian echo

Austria offers a very different roadmap, in deeper resonance with the Ukrainian equation. Because its neutrality depends on a double root, greatly influenced by Russian pressure here again.

After World War II, Austria was reduced to a very unpleasant situation. Connection obliges, it helped Germany in its terrifying Nazi escapade. The very symbol of the famous Central EuropeAustria is also crushed by the sudden fall of the Iron Curtain that separates the two blocs.

However, she manages to free herself by choosing a direction that Kemlin insistently suggested to her. In 1955, a state treaty and a constitutional law established its “permanent neutrality”. Texts that push it to a general distancing, but above all to cutting the bridge over the Danube with its cousin: Austria actually undertakes not to form any political or economic alliance with Germany and not to join a society like Germany would be a part of.

On the other hand, Austria joined the UN at a time when the nearby Federal Republic was not sitting there. Since then, the former judge of European elegance has put on his justice of the peace. Vienna – which specialized in US-Soviet meetings during the Cold War, as in 1961 between Kennedy and Khrushchev, or in 1979 between Carter and Brezhnev – has established itself as one of the UN’s strongholds, if it is one of the main seats. It also hosts the premises of the International Atomic Energy Agency. As such, it served as a theater for difficult negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Austria is more dependent on its “neutrality” and is also a member of the EU and has been so for 27 years.

Switzerland, the mother of neutrality

Jealous of its singularity, Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, just as little as of NATO (however, it also ended up stalling on UN benches in 2002). Over time, Switzerland has even made its insulation its trademark. On the website of its Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swiss Confederation makes its neutrality a kind of synonym for its sovereignty.

“The policy of neutrality is not governed by the rule of law. It brings together all the measures that a neutral state takes on its own to ensure the predictability and credibility of its neutrality in the legal sense,” we might read.

It is therefore up to Switzerland to indicate the content of this neutrality. “Switzerland provides its neutrality with a humanitarian and peaceful orientation in line with its tradition of good offices and humanitarian aid. It adapts its neutrality to the needs of international solidarity and puts it at the service of maintaining peace and prosperity,” the same source continues. .

Swiss neutrality – enshrined in its constitution – is based on five pillars that the state lists here: “Refrain from participating in war; ensure its own defense; ensure equal treatment of warlords for export of war material; refrain from supplying mercenaries to the warlords; refrain from making its territory available to the belligerents “.

It was the Treaty of Paris of 1815 that concluded the Congress of Vienna that gave the Confederation this position, further confirmed by the Hague Conference in 1907. But Swiss neutrality goes back much further. In 1515, François I ordered them to give up taking up arms against his people. Renunciation, which will finally become the rule of local diplomacy.

Five centuries before the discussions in Ankara, the question of neutrality was therefore already a question of balance of power.

Robin Verner BFMTV journalist

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