On Sept 21, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gave a start to a yet another Ukraine-NATO military exercise. The drills took place at Yavorovsky training ground in Lvov region and were followed by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council meeting on the prospects of Ukraine-NATO relations.
These two events marked a turnabout in Poroshenko’s attitude towards NATO from no wish to join the Alliance to strong desire to do it. Former President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma, who now represents Ukraine in the Contact Group on Donbass, chimed in by saying that shortly they will organize a nationwide referendum to see if Ukraine should join NATO or not.
The first to react to this decision was the head of the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko, who said that if Ukraine decided to join NATO, his republic would withdraw from the Minsk process and would start clearing its territory from Ukrainian occupation. The head of the unrecognized Lugansk People’s Republic Igor Plotnitsky is of the same opinion. But though strongly committed to see his country as a NATO member and claiming that as many as 60% of the Ukrainians also want this, Poroshenko is aware that this is not possible for the time being.
The first time this possibility was mentioned in 2006, when NATO ambassadors urged Viktor Yanukovych to ask NATO to involve Ukraine in its membership action plan. Yanukovych refused to do that claiming that his people were against it. But the real reason for his refusal was a protest from Russia.
Two years later, in 2008, Ukraine changed its position, when Viktor Yushchenko, Yulia Timoshenko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk sent Jaap de Hoop Scheffer a request to admit their country into NATO.
NATO welcomed the request but did nothing in practice. For Russia, that was alarming. Even though the Russians had a deal with the Ukrainians allowing them to have military bases in Crimea till 2017, they were aware of NATO’s rule prohibiting its members to have non-NATO bases in their territories. So, they knew that one of NATO’s first membership requirements would be to revise that deal and to remove the Russian bases from Crimea. By the way, one of the points of the deal said that Russia recognized Ukraine within its modern borders.
Yushchenko attempted to legalize Ukraine’s right to join NATO, but protests from the southeast of Ukraine and Crimea spoiled his attempt.
His pro-Russian successor Viktor Yanukovych put an end to Ukraine’s NATO membership plans and proclaimed it as a non-allied state.
The next time NATO was mentioned was the winter of 2014. Though as a presidential hopeful Petro Poroshenko promised to keep his country outside any alliances, in Nov 2014 as president, he said that it was for the people to decide and in Dec 2014 he ratified a law cancelling Ukraine’s non-allied status.
After all this Poroshenko was quite surprised to hear skepticism from Stoltenberg. In an interview to NRK in Dec 2014 the NATO Secretary General said that Ukraine had to meet a number of criteria for being able to join NATO, which could take it at least six years. He also warned that this would cause a number of territorial problems Ukraine would not be able to solve on its own.
What should Ukraine do to be able to join NATO? First of all, it should solve the territorial problems with Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea. Second, it should take a regular part in NATO maneuvers. Third, it should carry out the membership action plan.
For each potential member this plan is individual, but its general points are as follows:
- to have no territorial disputes with neighbors;
- to have an open and democratic army control system;
- to have an efficient personnel training system;
- to have modern arms;
- to have no other foreign bases.
And the most important requirement is that a country seeking to join NATO should have no war in its territory. And even though officially there is no state of war in Ukraine, NATO is well aware of what is actually going on in the country and is all but willing to solve others’ problems.
In Ukraine’s case, the plan may also contain a point requiring no corruption. We see no sense in continuing this list as the mentioned requirements are already unrealizable.
Ukraine has a number of global territorial problems NATO will hardly wish to solve. One of them is Crimea. If Poroshenko continues insisting on its return, he will have to forget about NATO as Russia will not agree to cede that territory. On the other hand, if he admits that Crimea is part of Russia, he will have no other way but to resign. The same is true with Donetsk and Lugansk, whose leaders, though ready to meet their Minsk obligations, do not seem to be eager to get wide autonomies within Ukraine.
With all the above considered, we can say that Ukraine will not join NATO unless the latter decides to amend its charter. So, Poroshenko’s words were just a friendly curtsy to Stoltenberg, especially as earlier President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker advised Poroshenko not to speak about NATO membership too much so as to avoid more tensions with Russia.
Thus, we can say that Stoltenberg’s visit to the war-ridden Ukraine was not something sensational. The sides signed a Road Map of Partnership in the Sphere of Strategic Communications and a Joint Declaration on the Enhancement of Defense-Technical Cooperation Between NATO and Ukraine. For NATO these two documents are more beneficial than for Ukraine. The Alliance has decided not to come very close to the Russian border. It will just deploy nuclear weapons in the territory of Europe but not so much for aggression as for deterrent.
Alexey Zotyev, specially for EADaily