We will never know if Putin would have decided against attacking Ukraine if he had been offered a deal where NATO (or at least a major Alliance member) agreed not to admit Ukraine unless the Russian Government formally approved of it.
Nor will ever know if Putin would have come up with another excuse to attack, because no one offered it to Russia.
Perhaps not even Putin knows what he would have done if he had been offered this deal earlier.
But what is clear is that making that offer at least wouldn’t have harmed Ukraine’s defensive position any more than it already has been by NATO holding out an empty membership offer that could never be fulfilled because no applicant can be admitted if it has an ongoing border dispute.
Also not helpful was the fact almost everyone in the United States arguing in favor of better Russian relations sounded like a cheerleader for Putin.
We now know, in hindsight, that not offering this deal to Putin had, exactly, a 0% chance of preventing a Russian attack on Ukraine.
Since offering it would have had a greater than 0% chance of placating Putin (or, delaying an invasion years into the future which would have given Ukraine more time to strengthen its defenses) the better option would have been to offer some sort of mechanism where Russia would have a veto over Ukrainian entrance to NATO.
In exchange for indefinitely postponing their NATO membership (except for the very unlikely event Russia changed its mind anytime before the distant future) Ukraine would be given more and more defensive weapons to better deter a potential Russian invasion.
Ukraine would certainly have been better off because the weapons they would have received under this deal would be usable right now against Russia.
These weapons would be very unlike the empty promise of NATO membership, which at this very moment is sitting somewhere at NATO headquarters on laptops and document stacks gathering dust.
As has been pointed out on this site a number of times there was no benefit to Ukraine or NATO in holding onto the ‘open door’ policy when Ukraine could never have joined NATO so long as it was dealing with an ongoing Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of Donbas.
A broader topic would be why did the idiots in the West who call themselves “foreign policy analysts” not realize, and still do not realize, that NATO should not have any ‘open door’ policy at all?
The reason is that the West’s foreign policy analysts are Progressives who do not know how to engage in the activity known as ‘thinking.’
Progressives do not know how to think.
Progressives only know how to create more and more useless bureaucracy.
Perhaps foreign policy talking heads should try thinking instead of creating useless bureaucratic rules like mask mandates and they will avoid more problems.
Problems such as praising Angela Merkel who was, during the Trump era, called “The Leader of the Free World.”
How do Leader Merkel’s decisions look in retrospect?
First, the great stateswoman left the German military badly underfunded throughout her widely praised 16 year tenure.
To make matters worse, Merkel put Germany completely at the mercy of Gazprom by stupidly endorsing German legislation that shut down half of her country’s nuclear power (the only known, completely reliable, 100% carbon free energy technology in the world) at the end of last year and which will close Germany’s remaining nuclear plants at the end of this year.
Reliable, carbon free, nuclear energy was shuttered in favor of completely unreliable wind power, electric cars, and (except when used in deserts) solar power.
The green policies Merkel implemented in Germany were copied by Western Europe and, under Biden, in the United States with America shutting down the Keystone pipeline and Britain banning fracking on its own soil.
The result of the West “transitioning” from stable nuclear power (which produces no carbon at all) and gas power to unreliable “renewables” has meant that 40% of European gas supplies come from Russia.
All of the green energy policies that led to European overdependence on Russian oil and gas were praised to the rafters for decades by the same Progressive foreign policy “elite” that also insisted on maintaining an open door policy to Ukrainian NATO membership, despite the fact it was legally impossible for Ukraine to join so long as Russia occupied Crimea and areas of Donbas.
Like Progressive foreign policy, Progressive energy policy is devoid of the act known as ‘thinking’ because they despise the only 0% carbon source of energy that is reliable, proven, and abundant (nuclear) in favor of completely unreliable “non-carbon” sources of energy that do not work.
Progressive should try thinking for once and then maybe they will be able to speak credibly on energy policy.
Once Progressives learn how to think about energy policy, then they may at last be ready to talk about foreign policy.
But let’s drop Western green energy policy (which is another Progressive marvel of pure, unadulterated, stupidity) for now and pivot back to foreign policy.
Let’s try thinking about foreign policy by using game theory.
As mentioned in previous articles one of the advantages of understanding game theory is that one can acquire the ability not to just see various options an actor may take, but also to see how an entire scenario is structured/designed, as a complete, interactive system.
What is the structural/design flaw of NATO’s open door policy for Ukraine from the perspective of John von Neumann’s game theory concepts?
The overall design flaw here is that it creates a scenario that is both pointless and unstable between the various actors involved in the Ukraine drama.
It is pointless because there was no legal way for Ukraine to enter NATO so long as Russia occupied parts of Ukraine.
It is unstable because the ‘open door’ policy greatly incentivized Russia to keep the occupation going indefinitely in order to (among other Russian objectives) block Ukraine from entering NATO.
And as long as Russia’s occupation kept going the risk that one side or other would miscalculate and use force to attain certain objectives increased over time.
Pointless and unstable is the perfect description not only of Progressive foreign policy but also of Progressive energy policy; indeed of every Progressive policy.
What this structural analysis means, when translated into diplomatic terms, is quite simply that no military alliance should ever have an ‘open door’ membership policy because of the nature of military alliances, in general.
Military alliances are not humanitarian agencies.
Military alliances are not international economic organizations.
NATO is not Doctors Without Borders.
NATO is not the World Trade Organization.
NATO is not the International Red Cross.
NATO is not the Eurozone.
NATO is a military alliance which means that whenever it adds new members it will naturally run the risk of encountering some kind of a hostile response by any power that feels threatened (however rightly or wrongly) by that military alliance.
Is there anything wrong with NATO running risk?
In game theory there is NOTHING wrong with taking on risk if – ***IF*** – one can AFFORD to take the risk.
But NATO members have made clear they are not willing to take the risk of defending Ukraine directly, a country with no legal mechanism to join NATO because of an ongoing border dispute.
In which case, under game theory logic, NATO should never have offered Ukraine membership in the first place because of the high risk of making the offer and zero chance of Ukraine joining NATO.
But knowing whether NATO could afford the risk of insisting on a purely theoretical Ukrainian entry into NATO that could never actually happen in reality (short of NATO militarily forcing Russia out of Crimea and Donbas, which was a risk NATO was not willing to take) simply did not occur to Western foreign policy “experts.”
This because Progressive foreign policy “experts” are trained in bureaucracy, not diplomacy, and so they held onto a stupid rule (without minor qualifications such as what the reaction of a potential enemy might be) that says anyone can join NATO.
Moreover, bureaucrats never ask whether stupid rules should exist in the first place because their job is to simply create more stupid rules like mask mandates for the triple-vaccinated.
The actual foreign policy rule that should have been followed by actual diplomats should have been that a NATO member should only join IF there is some advantage or advantages to their entrance that outweighs the risk of a negative reaction by a hostile power.
But understanding this would require ‘thinking’ which the foreign policy pundit class has no grasp of just like the “trained physicist” Angela Merkel had no idea of the fact that the only technologically viable form of zero-carbon energy is nuclear.