On June 8, Ukraine’s parliament adopted a bill called «On Amending Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine (on Foreign Policy Course of Ukraine)», setting NATO membership as Ukraine’s foreign policy goal, replacing the country’s non-aligned status. Now the ambition is enshrined into law that explicitly states Ukraine’s foreign policy will be focused on steps to promote cooperation with NATO in order to «achieve the criteria needed to gain membership in this organization». Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said he is sure the country will join NATO in the foreseeable future.
Neither countrywide discussions, nor plebiscite of any kind had preceded the vote. The December 2016 poll showed that NATO membership has no majority support with only 44% saying they want to join the alliance. The idea divides the nation as it has little support in the country’s south and east.
The move formalizes Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO after having a fast-track application rejected in 2008. President Petro Poroshenko wants to meet NATO entry requirements by 2020 and has promised to hold a referendum on joining. The Opposition Bloc party voted against the «NATO Bill» and called for the country’s neutrality to be restored.
Ukraine became the first Community of Independent States (CIS) country to enter NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994. In 1997, NATO opened its Information and Documentation Center in Kiev. The Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between the NATO and Ukraine was signed in Madrid twenty years ago (July 9, 1997). Ukraine took part in a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, ISAF mission in Afghanistan, training mission in Iraq, the counter-piracy initiative Ocean Shield off the coast of Somalia and Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean Sea. In 2003, Ukrainian troops were sent to Iraq.
None of these activities brought in closer to membership, or even any kind of enhanced partnership in the bloc. NATO snubbed Ukraine in 2008, refusing to give a Membership Action Plan at the 2008 Bucharest summit. The idea was supported by the US and Poland but opposed by France, Germany, and Italy.
In 2010, Ukraine passed a bill to exclude the goal of «integration into Euro-Atlantic security and NATO membership» from the country’s national security strategy. The legislation precluded Ukraine’s membership in any military bloc, but allowed for co-operation with alliances such as NATO. The non-allied status was renounced in late 2014. The decision was followed by intensification of cooperation, including Ukraine’s participation in a host of training evens such as NATO exercises: Operation Fearless Guardian, Exercise Sea Breeze, Saber Guardian/Rapid Trident, Safe Skies and Combined Resolve. It became the first non-member country to contribute its troops to the NATO Response Force. Kiev goes to any length in an effort to make its bid be considered seriously, but nothing works.
The parliament’s decision appears to pour fuel on false hope. Those in Ukraine who aspire for the membership appear to have lost touch with reality. The country has dim chances, if any, to become a NATO member in the foreseeable future. Its current foreign policy is not based on cold-blooded assessment of the facts.
In March, Ukraine's parliament passed a resolution, asking the United States to grant it the status of a major non-NATO ally. Nothing happened. No considerations followed the request. In late May, the US deleted Ukraine from the list of the countries which receive gratuitous military assistance. From now on, Ukraine will be offered loans instead of grants. It shows that Kiev is far from being included into the America’s priorities’ list. The unwillingness to supply Ukraine with lethal arms, much less deploy combat troops to Ukraine, indicates Washington’s interests are peripheral at best.
The US crucial support for Ukraine’s accession is still on the very distant horizon. One can hardly imagine Washington willing to back up a commitment to defend Ukraine by deploying tens of thousands of additional troops to the Old Continent, especially against the background of the recent US-NATO rift. The Ukraine’s government is rushing to join the bloc on the verge of being ripped apart.
The alliance faces too many problems and Ukraine’s accession does not top the agenda. Henry Kissinger and late Zbigniew Brzezinski have advocated a Ukraine’s neutral status here and here. Henry Kissinger has warned that «for the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.» Reality, he argues, should lead us to accept an outcome that excludes Ukraine from NATO.
As a member, Ukraine would be a huge obligation for the bloc’s 29 member states. It’s an open secret that Ukraine is notorious for its rampant corruption and those who provide aid to it can never be sure where it goes. Even before the war, Ukraine’s economy was one of the most corrupt and inefficient in Eastern Europe. As a result of the war, the economic situation has become even more desperate. Losing Donetsk and Lugansk regions will cost Ukraine about a fifth of its annual GDP. Today, Ukraine is mainly rural and agricultural economy with underdeveloped infrastructure and dim prospects for increasing economic integration with the EU, despite the association agreement in place.
Kiev has not even lifted a finger to enact military, political and economic reforms, as it promised to do a long time ago. It still has a long way to go stabilizing its teetering economy and shoring up the wobbly military. Besides, Kiev has failed to settle the internal conflict in Donbass. It does not control its own territory and has failed to settle internal disputes.
For NATO, Ukraine is an axe not worth grinding. The country’s accession to NATO would give the alliance nothing but a headache. The move will be unacceptable for Russia with all the ensuing consequences. The warnings coming from Moscow do not carry the ring of empty threats. If poked, Russia is the bear who can claw back. Then why should NATO provoke a confrontation with Russia by admitting Ukraine? All this factors make Ukraine a drain on the alliance in case it becomes a member.
All in all, the facts lead to the conclusion that the much vaunted move by Ukraine’s parliament is nothing else but imitation of parliamentary activities aimed at distracting society from other pressing issues, including the ongoing internal conflicts, the economy in doldrums, corruption and lack of reforms. Joining NATO as a full-fledged member? Frankly? Not a ghost of a chance.