The recent news of Ukraine’s inclusion in the list of countries seeking membership in NATO, also known as the aspirant countries, has sparked a lively discussion in social networks and a lot of opinions about the significance/insignificance of this status. Let us recall that it has to do with the North Atlantic Alliance posting the following message on its website: “Currently, four partner countries have declared their aspirations to NATO membership: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Ukraine.”
The question arises, why did NATO name Ukraine as an aspirant country only now, even though a presidential decree which stated this country’s aspiration to join the Euro-Atlantic structures was issued on the initiative of then-Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Yevhen Marchuk as early as 2002?
We have also learned lately that President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko sent a letter to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg asking the bloc to grant a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Ukraine and include it in the Enhanced Opportunities Program.
As is known, Ukraine sought to get a MAP at the Bucharest summit of NATO in 2008, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy blocked the decision then, and the final declaration of that summit said instead that Ukraine could become a member of the Alliance in the future.
Therefore, the question now arises again as to what might the reaction of NATO be to the request of President Poroshenko this time to grant Ukraine a MAP, what obstacles are there on the path to obtaining this status, and how Ukraine can benefit from joining the Enhanced Opportunities Program.
ASPIRING SINCE 2002
If you look carefully at the history of Ukraine’s relations with the North Atlantic Alliance, Ukraine got the status of an aspirant country for NATO membership back in 2002. This was asserted in the declaration of the Prague Summit, which took place in 2002. In particular, the 9th paragraph of that concluding document reads as follows: “We note Ukraine’s determination to pursue full Euro-Atlantic integration, and encourage Ukraine to implement all the reforms necessary, to achieve this objective.... Continued progress in deepening and enhancing our relationship requires an unequivocal Ukrainian commitment to the values of the Euro-Atlantic community.”
And this aspirant status was withdrawn in 2010 after president Viktor Yanukovych had come to power and officially told NATO that Ukraine did not want to get a MAP and instead wanted to become a non-aligned country.
Interestingly, this situation effectively continued until March 9, 2018. However, it could have been rectified in June last year, immediately after amending the Laws of Ukraine “On the Fundamentals of National Security of Ukraine” and “On the Principles of Domestic and Foreign Policy” to identify integration into the Euro-Atlantic security space for the purpose of gaining membership in NATO as one of the priorities.
And it turns out that to make changes on the NATO website which reflect the aspirations of Ukraine to acquire membership, our government merely needed to officially announce such an intention. And it was done, but only after a delay of... nine months. It took that much time for President Poroshenko to send an official letter to the Alliance’s secretary general to inform him that with a NATO summit approaching, Ukraine wanted to restore its aspirations which were now based on legislation. The question arises, why did our government delay making such an appeal for so long? This can be partly explained by the almost two-year absence of Ukraine’s ambassador to NATO, since it is the new ambassador Vadym Prystaiko, who was appointed late last year, who is credited at the NATO headquarters with the initiative to make changes to the NATO website.
Another moment should be addressed as well, it being the exaggerated attention of some Ukrainian media and Ukrainian politicians to Ukraine’s recognition as an aspirant for membership in the Alliance. In fact, no decision was made by NATO, they just made a correction to the website in the section “Enlargement.”
KEYS TO GETTING A MAP
Another important issue which is raised in the letter-appeal of the Ukrainian president to the NATO secretary general is a request to start negotiations on a MAP, which the president of Ukraine stumbled on last year, when he announced the beginning of negotiations with the Alliance’s members on this issue at a press conference following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Kyiv. Then both sides, that is, NATO and Ukraine, agreed that there was no need to digress towards a MAP, and the parties needed to focus on implementing the set tasks instead, and only then make statements about their intentions and submit them to their allies.
Therefore, it is unclear whether raising the MAP issue at the NATO summit in Brussels this July will pay off for Ukraine.
On the one hand, the North Atlantic Alliance recognizes Ukraine’s right to raise this issue.
On the other hand, The Day’s sources who are familiar with the situation admit they do not know what answer Ukraine will get from 29 NATO member countries that make decisions by consensus.
At the same time, diplomats emphasize that the alpha and omega of any future discussions about the possible MAP status will be the defense sector reform, including passing laws on national security, military intelligence, and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). In particular, it should involve appointing a civilian defense minister, the introduction of parliamentary oversight of the Ministry of Defense regarding the defense budget, and democratic civilian control over the SBU.
In addition, the sources friendly admit to The Day that some allies still have doubts about the strength of Ukraine’s commitment to the Euro-Atlantic course. And this concerns both the ability to implement reforms and the strategic orientation of Ukraine. Such doubts are justified by the fact that Ukraine abandoned its intention to become a NATO member twice: during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma in 2004 and during the Yanukovych presidency in 2010.
They point to Georgia as a model, which has unfailingly followed the NATO course since 2002, despite the changes of government and Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ascent to power. True, this consistency has not yet got the Caucasian country into NATO. Another example is Montenegro, which dissolved its union with Serbia and opted for NATO membership in 2006, and despite the complexity of relations with its former “elder brother,” joined the Alliance last year thanks to perseverance and consistency.
Therefore, dispelling doubts among some countries regarding the strategic orientation of this country remains a major task for Ukraine. In the opinion of the Ukrainian authorities, this problem could be partly eliminated by enshrining the course on NATO membership in the Constitution as evidence that Ukraine is very serious about this objective.
In general, the North Atlantic Alliance, which has gone through more than 25 years of enlargement, believes that membership prospects depend on the country itself, on how quickly it will be able to implement reforms and change legislation in order to comply with the legislation of most NATO member states.
CHASING YET ANOTHER SYMBOL
The presidential letter’s third paragraph expresses the intention to join the Enhanced Opportunities Program. At the moment, five countries – Australia, Jordan, Georgia, Finland, and Sweden – enjoy the status of Enhanced Opportunities Partners. The just-mentioned countries were chosen according to the amount of their contributions to military operations, NATO exercises, training, and crisis management. As is known, this status is not very significant, and this partnership offers nothing special except for the opportunity to meet with the Alliance’s members in certain formats.
The question arises, what for does this country need it, given that it has more than five NATO cooperation formats, including the Annual National Program (ANP), the Comprehensive Assistance Package, the Special Partnership between NATO and Ukraine, and meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC)?
The more important task for Ukraine at the moment is probably holding a meeting of the NUC at the highest level possible, in particular during the summit. However, it is known that Hungary blocked the winter meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of defense ministers, and thus, organizing a meeting in this format is still a dubious prospect. As a NATO source told The Day, the NUC meeting should take place in the near future, perhaps at the ambassadorial level, because Ukraine should present its ANP for 2018 in this format.