This was by no means the first “NATO landing operation” in Donetsk: the North Atlantic alliance has notably expanded its dialogue with eastern and central Ukraine, shifting the center of gravity in its relationship with Ukraine from Kyiv to the regions, and universities are co-sponsoring such events with greater frequency. Donetsk oblast is no exception: participating in the dialogue with NATO on May 17-19 were predominantly undergraduate and graduate students of Donetsk National University and other Ukrainian institutions of higher education. In what can be described as notable progress in the dialogue format, NATO officials took part in a live video chat right from their Brussels headquarters.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the perception of NATO by ordinary citizens is Ukraine’s main stumbling block in its Euro-Atlantic integration efforts. It turns out that it is not simply a question of lingering Soviet stereotypes. For many residents of Cherkasy, for example, NATO and the North Atlantic alliance are different organizations. What is more, they basically do not support Ukraine’s accession to “the former” but approve joining “the latter.” So Michel Duray, director of the NATO Information and Documentation Center in Kyiv, is being perfectly honest when he says that his job in the regions is not propaganda but an unprejudiced dialogue about NATO.
Supporters of the alliance have plenty to think about: military campaigns in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and especially Iraq have considerably worsened the perception of NATO in the Ukrainian mass consciousness. Whereas before the war in Yugoslavia the number of people in favor of Ukraine’s accession to NATO usually exceeded 20%, after the Iraq war it dropped to 17%, and is now an estimated 17-19%. But this situation may also have come about as a result of unbalanced information: many Ukrainians view the Iraq war as a NATO action and reports about tortures of POWs by US soldiers as pre-planned actions of alliance representatives. The fact is that it is the American government-not the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels-that bears responsibility for the US servicemen’s behavior. Experts also note that the state has not lifted a finger lately to improve NATO’s image among Ukrainians. An interesting fact: the state recently refused to fund the publication of a book on NATO and Ukraine’s European choice by the National Institute of Strategic Studies, even though the research was done by governmental experts and the institute’s associates. As a result, the publication had to be funded by a foreign foundation.
Another interesting detail about the perception of the alliance in Eastern Ukraine emerges from statements that Donetsk-based expert Ihor Todorov made at a recent international conference, where he revealed that Donbas residents equate the problem of NATO membership with national self-identification. Furthermore, over 30% of the region’s residents identify themselves as “Soviet,” which automatically determines their attitude to the alliance.
Supporters of NATO membership have compelling arguments of their own. The director of the National Institute of Strategic Studies, Hryhoriy Perepelytsia, noted that NATO is, above all, the choice of a civilization. We, Ukrainians, must decide in which civilization — European, Asian or, say, Islamic — we are going to develop. NATO is also an area of security, expansion of a certain system of values, and supremacy of the law for every human being. This is why most students, i.e., people who want to live in Europe, support accession to the North Atlantic alliance. Young people are also fully aware that Ukraine cannot join the EU unless it joins NATO and makes a contribution to the new architecture of European security.
It is a primitive, and even dangerous, myth that all Ukrainians will suddenly get rich once this country joins the alliance. NATO is now an elite club, a military-political bloc ready to defend democratic values and create viable mobile armies, including one for Ukraine. It is this, rather than NATO membership as such, that Ukraine will have to pay for. This in no way means having to purchase Western aircraft, air defense systems, and missiles.
NATO standards envisage, first of all, interchangeability, the same language of communication, and the same approaches to telecommunications, data processing, target designation, and reconnaissance. Although there is a growing internal tendency to standardize NATO armaments, there is no complete uniformity there.
Naturally, Ukraine is not going to reject Russian-made aircraft and air defense weapons, especially if its enterprises take part in their production. For example, one of the world’s best-known antiaircraft systems, the S- 300, and the most mass-produced interceptor, Mig-29, are manufactured jointly by 103 and 568 businesses, respectively. However, contrary to the declarations of Russian politicians and industrialists about complementary production, the Ukrainian share is steadily diminishing. For example, only 2 out of the original 44 Ukrainian enterprises are still involved in the production of the Su-30 multipurpose aircraft, not to mention the fact that the Topol-M ballistic missile was developed by Russia without Ukrainian participation, while in Soviet times 12 out of 20 of the most powerful IBMs were developed and manufactured in Dnipropetrovsk. In other words, it is Moscow-not Kyiv-that chose to reduce Ukraine’s level of cooperation, thus compelling Ukrainians to seek out new alternatives.
Experts have long been trying to dispel the myth that Ukraine’s entry into NATO will inevitably destroy the national military-industrial complex. The first thing to remember is that this did not happen in the countries that joined this bloc. On the contrary, after gaining access to Western technologies, a number of Central and Eastern European states have entered the arms markets of other countries. Moreover, in 2003 Poland even outstripped Ukraine in arms sales. Western states are also legally bound to make compensatory investments in the economy of client countries, which will offset the amounts spent on military equipment. For example, Polish law states that every defense order exceeding 5 million dollars, placed with a foreign manufacturer, is to be accompanied by reverse investments equal to the value of the order. Moreover, half of these funds are to be channeled direct to the Polish defense sector. In this way Poland has already received investments worth about $20 billion.
One of the colossal benefits of NATO membership is collective defense and the resulting need to develop just a few components of the national military machine. Participation in international missions has shown that air transportation capability and the training of CBR units can be Ukraine’s contribution to the European defense effort.
Observers are pointing out that a new stage in Ukraine-NATO cooperation has begun. Western experts add that the Ukrainian potential of Euro- Atlantic integration has risen dramatically. On the other hand, there are certain fears concerning what is going in the topmost echelons of the Ukrainian government. In frank, informal conversations some Western experts have been saying that they view the current face-off between the National Security and Defense Council and the Cabinet as a paralysis of the top Ukrainian governmental offices. This can undermine the reform of the defense and security sector. “This paralysis has been dragging on for too long, and lack of coordination in the reform process can push Ukraine away from Euro-Atlantic integration and notably reduce its current potential,” a Western participant in the Donetsk conference said bluntly.