The USA Is Legally and Morally Obligated to Defend Ukraine Militarily, Having Co-Signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum

The United States is legally and morally obligated to defend Ukraine militarily, having co-signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, a treaty between Russia and Ukraine guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty in exchange for all of Ukraine’s nuclear weapons being turned over to Russia. So, even without Ukraine being a member of NATO, the U.S. is obligated to defend it against Russia’s invasion.

The Biden Administration has so far wanted to avoid sending any American military personnel to Ukraine, not even to help man sophisticated equipment such as Patriot air defense systems, believing that would risk Americans directly confronting the Russian military, driving Putin to escalate. That is a policy mistake, so long as American military personnel remain on or over Ukrainian territory, refraining from encroaching on Russian territory. In fact, Ukraine’s soil and airspace is its own, exclusively, and it can invite foreign military personnel whenever it wants to help it defend against any aggressor. Russia cannot logically object to that.

Biden and Zelenskyy must publicly reject any illogical Russian positions, such as that Russia is allowed to attack Ukraine’s territory with missiles and bombers, but Ukraine is not allowed to counterattack Russia’s territory. Not even Hitler ever made such preposterous demands as has Putin. Furthermore, Putin is not only violating the Budapest Memorandum, he is violating the United Nations’ Charter even while Russia is a member of the U.N. and, worse, a permanent member of the Security Council. And by targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, Putin is committing war crimes.

At this point, the U.S. should openly and flatly declare that it is an ally of Ukraine, and that it is legally and morally bound to defend Ukraine, just as if it were a NATO member. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine along with his nuclear threats is outrageously perfidious, given that Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum. Ukraine fulfilled its side of the deal, trusting Russia and the United States, another signatory, to fulfill their obligations. Because of that treaty, the United States is legally and morally bound to #defend Ukraine’s sovereignty against Russian attacks, regardless of NATO, and with no regard to Russian diktats of any kind. If we break our word, our word will be seen as worthless, an outcome we cannot ever accept.

The Budapest Memorandum belies Putin’s propaganda claims that Ukraine does not exist as a nation, has no sovereignty, is naturally part of Russia, and does not have its own language and culture. So does the fact that Ukraine has been a sovereign nation since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a member state of the United Nations for 30 years. Putin, a career KGB officer defending the Soviet dictatorship, conveniently dismisses the fact that Bolshevik Russia took over an independent Ukraine by force in 1921, incorporated it into the Soviet Union as one of its republics, and condemned it to poverty and oppression for 70 years. Putin never apologizes for being an enforcer of the Soviet dictatorship and its disastrous communist system, not just over Ukraine, but even over his own Russia. Putin’s real motive for invading Ukraine is not security concerns, a transparent pretext since no one has been threatening Russia; rather, it is his colonialist/imperialist ambition of reconstituting the Russian Empire, in order to at least partially salve his deep inferiority complex deriving from childhood.

President Biden has been masterful so far, as no other current American politician could be, in rallying NATO members and non-NATO nations to the defense of Ukraine, and in carefully, gradually increasing military assistance in lockstep with the Ukrainian people demonstrating their courage and determination to defeat the Russian invasion, as well as their attachment to democracy and human rights, contrary to Putin’s hypocritical accusations of being a Nazi fascist state, which is what Russia has become under Putin. But today, since Ukraine has proven it is worthy of being admitted as a member of NATO and the European Union, it is time to grant it conditional membership, to become permanent once it confirms its adherence to democracy, human rights, and good governance in the years following Russia’s defeat. Granting Ukraine conditional NATO and EU membership would probably put an immediate end to Russia’s continued military campaign against Ukraine, being an unambiguous sign of resolve and commitment to restore Ukraine’s full territorial sovereignty, including all of Crimea, dismantling Russia’s military base in Sebastopol.

Meanwhile, it is crucially important that Biden and Zelenskyy immediately challenge Putin to separate live broadcast/streamed 2-hour remote “Zoom” debates with no moderator, with just a chess stop-clock for a total speaking time of one hour each, with a three minute maximum per alternating segment. Biden and Zelenskyy would schedule their Zoom debates one week from their public challenge, since there is no time to waste. The televised/streamed debates are essential to get through to the Russian people, who are brainwashed and misinformed by their state controlled media. Having them exposed to the truth, and having them realize that Putin has lied to them continuously, is essential to turn Russian public opinion against the invasion of Ukraine. Most Russians believe Putin’s propaganda that Ukraine and NATO were planning to attack Russia before the invasion, and that they constitute a major threat to Russia’s security, which explains their backing Putin. If Putin refuses to debate Zelenskyy and Biden, he will lose face worldwide, not just among Russians.

What would be the “face-saving exit” for Putin? Both sides admitting there was a misunderstanding that Putin overreacted to, namely the increasing hostility towards Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, justified by Putin’s inciting and assisting Russian separatists covertly and overtly, clearly a pretext and prelude to invasion. In exchange for Ukraine guaranteeing fair treatment of Russian speakers, Putin agrees to end his inciting and assisting separatism. A formal peace treaty is signed, with Putin explicitly recognizing Ukraine as a legitimate sovereign nation and renouncing any Russian claims of sovereignty over it, and committing Russia, a U.N. member, to deal with any future disagreements peacefully through United Nations procedures. Putin will also have to apologize for egregiously violating the Budapest Memorandum as well as the United Nations’ Charter, and agree to pay full reparations.

Of crucial importance, Russia and Putin personally will have to formally repudiate using nuclear weapons, release all political prisoners, including Navalny, end all censorship, and commit to true democracy and the strict observance of the United Nations’ Charter and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as required of all U.N. member nations, and agree to hold free, fair, transparent elections within 6 months. Moreover, Putin will have to agree to nationalize all of Russia’s major companies which were corruptly taken over following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, then privatize them distributing the shares equally to all Russian citizens so that they can benefit from dividends and capital gains. That equitable measure would have been implemented right after the Soviet Union dissolved, had the Russian political leadership been honest and fair.

Finally, Putin will be required to publicly thank the West for resolutely standing up against communism and the Soviet Union, enabling Russia to finally ditch communism and embrace a free market economy, bringing its citizens out of 70 years of communist poverty. He will also be required to publicly admit, if true, that in his private meetings with Trump he encouraged Trump to organize an insurrection in case he lost the 2020 election, and explained how to do it, highlighting Lenin’s violent coup d’etat in 1917. Why? To have a militarily powerful and corrupt American dictator as his ally, in order to end democracy and divide up the world.

© Edward Sonnino 2022

December 27, 2022


Born and raised in New York City. Best course in college: history of art. Profession: economic forecaster and portfolio manager. Fluent in French and Italian.

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Edward Sonnino

Born and raised in New York City. Best course in college: history of art. Profession: economic forecaster and portfolio manager. Fluent in French and Italian.