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Ukraine - NATO Membership

The prospect of NATO in Ukraine raises the same kind of panic as Soviet missiles in Cuba did in the US. Were Ukraine to join NATO, the alliance would then have a 1,200-mile land border with Russia.

A poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) in May 2022 showed that 39 percent of Ukrainians believe that joining NATO would guarantee the nation's security, while 42 percent believe that in the current environment settling for security guarantees may be acceptable. The poll also showed that the population's readiness to abandon the idea of joining NATO and instead obtaining security guarantees from NATO countries is supported by 35 percent of the population in the country's west, which has been less affected by the war, and 50 percent in Ukraine's eastern regions. At the same time, people who strongly support Ukraine joining NATO is 46 percent in western regions of Ukraine and 25 percent in the country's east.

Ukraine pledged neutrality when it gained independence in 1991, but changed tack after Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. Ukraine's parliament voted by a large majority to amend the constitution and made membership in the European Union and in NATO into a state objective. But not only Russia wants to prevent this. NATO has consistently refused the application, fearing this would trigger a military confrontation with Russia. By 2022 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy admitted that the goal of joining NATO is probably unattainable.

Under NATO's rules, countries with territorial disputes with neighbors, and those suffering from civil conflict, are not eligible to join. While Washington encouraged Kiev to implement reforms in the defence sector to become eligible for NATO membership, Moscow warned the US that any expansion of NATO military installations in Ukraine would cross its "red lines". Some NATO allies do not seem willing to get involved in simmering territorial disputes or risk confrontation with Russia.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov made it clear 10 December 2021 the hurdle of Ukraine’s membership had to be cleared. “We are fed up with loose talk, half-promises, misinterpretations. We need ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees on this issue, not assurances, guarantees with all those words like “shall”, “must” in them, but ironclad guarantees Ukraine will never join,” said Ryabkov, adding that trust between Moscow and Washington has been destroyed, hence the Kremlin’s insistence on a legal deal. “Enough is enough,” added Ryabkov emphatically. “The situation now is dangerous and precarious and we cannot afford any more delays on this very fundamental issue.”

Ryabkov said "we said its mandatory that Ukraine never, never ever, becomes a member of Nato.” Ryabkov went on to repeat a suggestion that the wording of the Bucharest summit document that includes an informal invitation to join Nato for Ukraine and Georgia be changed. “We would favour at the forthcoming summit the reform of Bucharest summit memo in 2008 where it says Ukraine and Georgia could be members – that could be changed to say they will never become members. That would be a favourable change.”

Melvin A. Goodman wrote 11 January 2022, " unless the United States is willing to concede that the expansion of NATO was strategically unsound, there is little chance for a genuine compromise and movement in bilateral Russian-American relations."

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin stated on 19 October 2021 that Russia had no right to veto NATO's membership decisions when it comes to Ukraine. However, not all European countries are in favor of Ukraine [or Georgia] joining NATO.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office 01 September 2021. He pressed for a firm commitment on NATO membership from the US, but got little encouragement. Biden remained steadfast that Ukraine has a long way to go in implementing reforms before it was ready to join the military alliance. White House press secretary Jen Psaki, though, did touch upon the topic of Ukraine's potential membership as she said the White House maintains its "support and we continue to call for ensuring that NATO's door remains open to aspirants." Zelenskyy is only the second European leader to have a meeting with Biden at the White House.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on NATO on 06 April 2021 to lay out a path for Ukraine to join the Western military alliance. The President of Ukraine stressed that the most urgent issue in relations with NATO for Ukraine was the possibility of obtaining the NATO Membership Action Plan. “We are committed to reforming our army and defense sector, but reforms alone will not stop Russia. NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas. Ukraine's MAP will be a real signal for Russia,” the President said.

NATO is security in our region, so Ukraine is moving towards full membership in the North Atlantic Alliance, as stated by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an interview 12 October 2020 for BBC HARDtalk. "Today we have become a NATO partner with enhanced opportunities. We are heading to NATO," the President said. "NATO is security in our region. We understand that," he added. The President stated: Ukraine has a powerful army of 200,000 servicemen. The material and technical provision of the Ukrainian army is constantly updated. "I tell the United States, the countries of the European Union - I tell everyone: if you do not want to lose Ukraine, you must support it. And NATO membership is a very important signal to the Russian Federation and it is the most important support," he said. To the host's remark that some European high-ranking officials consider Ukraine's membership in NATO and the EU a fantasy, Volodymyr Zelenskyy replied that the war between Ukraine and Russia was once considered a fantasy as well.

The United States supports Ukraine's ambition to join NATO, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced 06 May 2021. "We support it," the spokeswoman said, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One. "Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken is in Kiev right now to affirm our support for Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. His trip also emphasizes the importance of Ukraine passing key legislation to advance rule of law, anticorruption and economic reforms that will strengthen Ukraine's democracy and economy, and further Euro-Atlantic integration," Jean-Pierre said. "The Biden administration is committed to ensuring that NATO's door remains open to aspirants when they are ready and able to meet the commitments and obligations of membership and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area," she clarified. The spokeswoman added that Washington "supports" Ukraine's reforms "and its border fight against Russia aggression." Ukraine's rapprochement with NATO was restored after the Revolution of Dignity. The annexation of Crimea by Russia and the beginning of the armed conflict in Donbas forced Ukrainian politicians to intensify cooperation with the Alliance. At the end of 2014, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a law that provides for Ukraine's rejection of its "non-alignment" status. According to the new Military Doctrine of Ukraine adopted in 2015, deepening cooperation with NATO and achieving full compatibility of the Ukrainian Armed Forces with the armies of NATO member states by 2020 has become a priority.

Bohdan Yaremenko, analyst at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation, noted in May 2017 that no one will attack Montenegro, therefore, NATO's obligations to ensure the security of this country are declarative. With Ukraine, the situation is radically different. Yaremenko points out, NATO cannot fully trust Ukraine’s legal system, its internal security system, its counterintelligence (because of the alleged presence of Russian agents), and Ukraine's ability to defend itself.

Ukraine sought NATO membership in the immediate post-Soviet period, but was never viewed as a serious candidate due to widespread corruption and a military that was in tatters. President Yushchenko, inaugurated in January 2005, and a new coalition government, which took office in February 2005, promised to follow a new course in aligning Ukraine towards Euro-Atlantic structures like the European Union and NATO and in pursuing democratic political reforms and market economic reform.

The Government's results in the first nine months were mixed. While it achieved significant advances, its ability to implement change was hampered by political infighting within the Government and difficulties in passing legislation through the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament.

West-leaning ex-Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko bid unsuccessfully to take Ukraine into NATO, an issue that soured relations between Kiev and Moscow. Ukraine and Georgia have long been pursuing NATO membership but their bids were turned down due to pressure from Germany and France at a 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest.

New Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said his administration would not continue with former President Viktor Yushchenko's bid to take Ukraine into NATO, and would prioritize long-established relations with Russia and other CIS countries. New Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said on 25 February 2010 that Kiev will build relations with both Europe and former Soviet republics, but will not form any military alliances either with NATO or Russia. "The challenges which the international community faces dictate the need to unite in a larger format. We are ready to participate in this process as a European non-aligned state," Yanukovych said in his inauguration speech in the Ukrainian parliament.

Yanukovych has repeatedly opposed plans to join NATO, saying the issue must be put to a referendum. All opinion polls conducted in the ex-Soviet republic show that most Ukrainians are against the country's accession to the bloc.

NATO will keep the door open for a possible accession of Georgia and Ukraine provided they fall in line with the strict criteria required for membership. On 27 February 2010 Alexander Vershbow, NATO's assistant secretary of defense for international strategic affairs, told a news briefing in Washington that NATO welcomed Georgia and Ukraine's entry bids but stressed that the countries should conduct reforms to meet the membership criteria. Earlier in the week, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a speech in Washington's Georgetown University that Georgia and Ukraine should conduct security and other reforms. He added that NATO had been holding active discussions with the two countries through bilateral working groups.

Yanukovych said renewing a full-fledged partnership with Russia will be one of his priorities, as will a mutually beneficial partnership with the United States, the European Union and key members of the G-20. Viktor Yanukovych couched his opposition to NATO membership with statements made in the West that ordinary Ukrainians are not ready for membership.

Relations between Ukraine and NATO began to develop soon after the gain of Ukraine's independence in 1991. It was as early as in January 1992 when a representative of Ukraine took part for the first time in the work of Work Group of high level in North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC). In February 22-23 1992 NATO Secretary-General M.Verner had his first visit of to Kyiv, during which Ukraine was invited to NACC. Since then active contacts and cooperation with NATO began.

On 08.02.94 Ukraine was the first country of CIS to sign PfP Framework Document, and on 25.05.94 it provided NATO authorities with its Presentation document, in which political goals of Ukraine's participation in PfP were determined, together with arrangements necessary to achieve these goals with means and powers allocated by Ukraine for participation in PfP.

Important steps in the development of NATO-Ukraine cooperation were: sittings of North Atlantic Council on September 14, 1995 and on March 20, 1997 with participation of Minister of Foreign affairs of Ukraine G.Udovenko, range of political and special consultations between Ukraine and NATO in "16+1" Format, held in 1995-1997, mutual visits on high level including first official visit of NATO Secretary General J.Solana to Ukraine on April 15-16 1996. On 09.07.97 at Madrid Summit the President of Ukraine L.D.Kuchma had signed NATO-Ukraine Special Partnership Charter, which determines political commitments of sides on the highest level and explains the content of "special partnership" between NATO and Ukraine.

Preventing Ukraine from joining NATO is believed to be one of Russia’s main goals in the war in 2014. And some experts say that could be a key element of a settlement, if Ukraine’s government were willing to pledge not to join the alliance. Experts say NATO members will be reluctant to accept Ukraine as long as it's in a "frozen conflict" with Russia because the alliance is required to defend any member against attack.

The Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers submitted a bill 29 August 2014 repealing the country's non-bloc status to the Verkhovna Rada. "In accordance with the decision adopted by the National Security and Defense Council, the government of Ukraine has submitted a bill that repeals the Ukrainian state's non-bloc status and re-establishes Ukraine's course towards membership in NATO to parliament for consideration," Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said at a government session. According to Yatseniuk, the law permits Ukraine to take decisions on membership of any other economic, political and military units as long as they don't contradict the main aim of Ukraine – membership of the European Union.

Some 52% of Ukrainian residents would support the country's accession to NATO in a national referendum if it held, according to a survey conducted by GfK Ukraine on 24-28 September 2014, Dzerkalo Tyzhnia (Mirror Weekly) reported. Some 19% opposed Ukraine's joining NATO, 18% said they would not vote at a referendum, and 10% were undecided. According to the poll, traditionally Ukraine's membership of NATO is mostly supported by residents of the western regions and Kyiv (73% and 71%, respectively) and the lowest level of support was recorded in the southern and eastern regions (36% and 27% respectively). Men more support NATO membership more than women (60% vs. 47%).

Ukraine's newly agreed five-party ruling coalition reportedly set the country's membership of NATO as its major goal 21 November 2014. The coalition comprises the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the Popular Front, Samopomich (Self-Rule), the Radical Party, and Batkivshchyna (Fatherland). The five pro-Western parties control a total of 288 seats in 421-seat parliament.

Germany's FM, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said he is against Ukraine joining NATO. In an interview with Der Spiegel 23 November 2014, he said he considered “that it is possible for NATO to have a partnership with Ukraine, but not membership.” Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) clearly rejected Ukraine's efforts to become a member of NATO. The Ukrainian government described NATO membership as a priority in its new coalition agreement. Moscow, on the other hand, was demanding a guarantee from the West that Ukraine will not become a NATO member. "What I said months ago applies to the alliance issue: I see partnership between Ukraine and NATO, but no membership," Steinmeier told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

He also added that he does not believe it is realistic for Ukraine to join the European Union in the foreseeable future, as the economic and political modernization of Ukraine is a “project for a few generations.” He also urged Kiev to introduce reforms to fight corruption and mismanagement of the economy, saying they had to start immediately and that there was no time to lose.

Russia President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said one of the means of changing the balance of power in the world to eventually subdue Russia was NATO’s gradual approach toward its borders, which made Russia “nervous”, he said, speaking to the BBC 23 November 2014. Russia needs a “100 percent guarantee that no one would think about Ukraine joining NATO,” Peskov said.

Ukraine took a further step toward seeking NATO membership December 23, 2014, when the country's parliament passed a law abolishing Kyiv's neutral, non-aligned status. Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly scrap the non-aligned status, which was adopted in 2010 under Russian pressure and had prevented Kyiv from entering into any military alliances. The amendment passed easily, receiving 303 votes, 77 more than the minimum required to pass into law.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Ukraine's renunciation of its neutral military and political status a “counterproductive” step that would only raise tensions around the crisis in the east. “It will only escalate the confrontation and creates the illusion that it is possible to resolve Ukraine's deep internal crisis by passing such laws”.

Ukraine's NATO bid prompted a mixed reaction from the alliance, with majority of NATO officials saying the country was not ready to join the bloc, and urging Kiev to implement a wide range of reforms before pursuing NATO membership.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a constitutional amendment committing the country to becoming a member of NATO and the European Union. Addressing parliament on 19 February 2019, Poroshenko said he saw securing Ukraine's membership in NATO and the EU as his "strategic mission." Ukraine should "submit a request for EU membership and receive a NATO membership action plan no later than 2023," the president told the Verkhovna Rada. However, he acknowledged that his country needs to come a "long way" to meet the criteria of joining both institutions.

Ukrainian presidential front-runner Volodymyr Zelenskiy pledged to hold a referendum on whether or not Kyiv should join NATO if he is elected president. Zelenskiy, a comic actor who is far ahead in the polls ahead of the April 21 election pitting him against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, said on 18 April 2019 that "we have clearly chosen our path to Europe." But he said it was critical to build a nationwide consensus on joining the alliance.

"It's obvious that NATO means security and a high level of [our] military, but I want to unite the country," he told RBK Ukraine. Zelenskiy added that he would work to convince people in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern parts of Ukraine to overcome their negative view of NATO. "I will record daily video appeals to the eastern regions of Ukraine to tell them that NATO isn't a beast that is going to swallow you," he said.

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Page last modified: 25-05-2022 16:35:13 ZULU