‘NATO Days’ in Ukraine: Reviving Talks on Alliance Membership

‘NATO Days’ in Ukraine: Reviving Talks on Alliance Membership

NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg came to Kiev to participate in the July 10 session of the NATO-Ukraine commission. This time, his support for Ukraine was especially strong. One of the issues on the agenda was prospects of joining the alliance, including launching discussions on giving Ukraine a Membership Action Plan (MAP). Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the country would work on reforms to meet membership standards by 2020. According to Stoltenberg, NATO is moving to strengthen its partnership with Kiev in any case. In particular, the alliance will help Ukraine improve its cyber defenses. Enhancing interoperability between the militaries is in focus.

The NATO chief said the bloc has reviewed a complex package of assistance for Ukraine, pledging almost 40 million euros through 10 Trust Funds «to support Ukraine in command and control, cybersecurity and medical rehabilitation». According to him, satellite communication equipment is now being provided. Recently, state-of-the-art cyberdefense systems have been transferred for the key government institutions to investigate the recent cyberattacks.

The Secretary said the MAP was not discussed «in depth», which means a very important thing - it was an issue on the agenda. Detailed or not, the discussions did take place. Accession is seriously considered even despite the fact that the top NATO official admitted that Ukraine is known for its sweeping corruption and it’s a big problem!

The issue despite human rights violations the UN has expressed concern about! A MAP for country with its economy in such a mess! A membership for a country with an internal conflict unsolved! NATO does not grant membership to the countries with ongoing internal conflicts or unresolved territorial disputes. Is Ukraine going to be an exclusion from the rule? The money paid by taxpayers in the member states will go to Ukraine as aid. Can anybody be sure it’ll be spent as planned?

There were a few things that made the visit symbolic. Mr. Stoltenberg took part in the inauguration of the new premises of the NATO Representation to Ukraine. The presence of full-fledged diplomatic office emphasizes the country’s partner status. None of the partner countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has the same representation.

The Sea Breeze-2017 international naval exercises, co-hosted by Ukraine and the United States, kicked off in the Black Sea on July 10 to last till July 23. More than 30 ships, hovercraft and support vessels, over 25 aircraft and more than 3,000 servicemen from 16 countries – 13 member states plus Ukraine, Georgia and Sweden - are participating in the training event. The drills are conducted in the 'free game' format in the Odessa and Mykolaiv regions and the northwestern areas of the Black Sea. The practice scenarios cover amphibious warfare.

According to The Drive, this year, the US Navy deployed both USS Carney, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer which is forward deployed to Spain, and USS Hue City, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser detached from the USS George H.W. Bush’s carrier strike group. The George H.W. Bush is presently conducting operations from the Mediterranean Sea. The ships have capable land attack, anti-ship, and air defense weaponry, advanced sensors, and ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities. Part of Carney’s role in Europe is specifically to act as part of the regional Aegis BMD shield. This is the first time America sent two Aegis equipped land attack capable surface ships to take part in the exercise.

Moscow is conducting its own exercises in the region. Russian Bastion shore-based anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as networked air defenses, play the role of deterrent against NATO forces.

On July 9, 2017, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his first visit to Ukraine in an official capacity to meet with President Petro Poroshenko. He pledged continued support to Ukraine in its fight against rebels in the eastern part of the country. Tillerson said the fundamental goal of the US "is to restore Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty," which would be "required in order for the US and Russia to improve our relationship" and that Russia sanctions would be in place until that happens. "It is necessary for Russia to take the first steps to de-escalate the situation in the eastern part of Ukraine," he said. At the same time, the Secretary did not emphasize the obligation of Ukraine to comply with the Minsk accords!

Secretary Tillerson was accompanied by Kurt Volker, the newly appointed US Special Representative to the Minsk peace process, who is known as a hawk against Moscow. He has close ties to Republican Senator John McCain who advocates an all-out war on Russia.

This weekend, the Ukrainian president signed the Law of Ukraine «On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine Regarding the Foreign Policy of Ukraine» which determines membership of the Alliance as one of the country’s foreign policy priorities. Poroshenko said that a referendum on NATO membership would be held by 2020 but Ukraine has a long way to go stabilizing its teetering economy and shoring up the wobbly military.

And there is no such thing as free lunch. The US political support is not gratuitous. In late June, the Ukrainian government took a decision to buy American coal from Pennsylvania that is said to be almost twice as expensive as locally sourced in the Donbass – the Ukraine’s traditional supplier of energy needs. 

In May, the US administration deleted Ukraine from the list of the countries which receive gratuitous military assistance. With loans offered instead of grants, Ukraine will have to pay. Despite the expression of US support during Tillerson’s visit, Kiev is far from being included into the list of America’s privileged partners. The unwillingness to supply Ukraine with lethal arms, much less deploy combat troops to Ukraine, confirms the fact.

NATO also faces too many problems and Ukraine’s accession does not top the agenda. The alliance will get pretty much nothing out of having Ukraine in NATO, other than the heavy burden of defending it. Its membership will certainly not make NATO more secure but it will significantly weaken the bloc, sapping it resources and distracting it from other vital missions.

Besides, the move will be unacceptable for Russia with all the ensuing consequences. It will not just sit and watch idly as NATO is moving closer to its borders. Why should NATO provoke a confrontation with Russia by admitting Ukraine when terrorists threaten the very existence of the West? NATO, Russia and Ukraine would gain more if a binding international agreement guaranteed Ukraine’s non-bloc status. That’s what would enhance European security to make everyone a winner.

Tags: NATO  Ukraine