Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 131

Last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld became the first top-level official of the Bush administration to hold talks with Ukraine’s leaders in Kyiv. On July 4-5, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson held another round of discussions in Kyiv on common strategic and political concerns. These, and planned follow-up discussions, indicate a recognition on all sides of three realities about Ukraine: first, its pivotal position in Europe, as reflected in the NATO-Ukraine Distinctive Partnership Charter; second, the relative stabilization of its internal political situation, along with the clear reaffirmation of Kyiv’s European choice; and, third, the need to accelerate economic and legal reforms, the retardation of which thwarts that European choice, exposing Ukraine instead to the gravitational pull of Russia. For those reasons, issues related to internal reforms figured prominently in both Rumsfeld’s and Robertson’s discussions with President Leonid Kuchma and other Ukrainian leaders.

In a nationally televised interview and in remarks to a NATO symposium in Kyiv, Robertson noted that Ukraine’s “clear choice to become part of Europe and of the Transatlantic community” presupposes meeting democratic standards and promoting market-based economic cooperation with the countries of that community; “these factors strengthen the country’s independence.” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell also underscored these points in a Ukrainian press interview, concurrent with Robertson’s visit.

With an eye to Russia, Robertson asserted that Ukraine’s close relationship with NATO threatens no country, and that Kyiv has demonstrated that its European and Euro-Atlantic choice is fully compatible with good relations with Moscow. Robertson spoke of the emergence of a “NATO-Ukraine and NATO-Russia triangle, a useful and effective safeguard of stability,” one presupposing that “Ukraine’s step-by-step integration with Europe and good relations with Russia can develop concurrently.”

For their part, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh, Foreign Affairs Minister Anatoly Zlenko and National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk reaffirmed the view that NATO’s eastward enlargement represents a welcome “increase in the strength of a united Europe,” adds to Ukraine’s security, and reflects “each nation’s sovereign right to choose its alliances.” Added Zlenko: “Can anyone impede this process or veto the alliance’s enlargement? I don’t think anyone can.” Kuchma had recently expressed that view with specific reference to the Baltic states during his visit to Vilnius (see the Monitor, May 11).

The Ukrainian side came close–as it had in the discussions with Rumsfeld–to accepting the validity of the U.S. case for developing an antimissile defense system, as necessary to deal with the proliferation of missiles and that of missile technologies. Ukrainian leaders are now calling for an international conference that would discuss adapting the 1972 ABM Treaty to current realities. Kyiv proposes to host a first session of such a conference with the participation of senior diplomats, military officials and experts from NATO countries and Russia.

Marchuk’s and Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk’s discussions with the NATO delegation focused on Ukraine’s military reform and on the potential for cooperation in the defense industry. Financial constraints, however, slow the advance of military reform. A joint NATO-Ukraine working group is advising Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and National Security and Defense Council on military reform issues and is overseeing the implementation of commonly agreed reform goals and timetables. NATO considers that Ukraine needs to do more, and to do it more quickly, to modernize its military. Regarding defense industry, the sides discussed possible projects in aircraft building, the aerospace sector and Ukrainian participation–along with Western allies and with Russia–in the hypothetical development of a missile defense system in the European theater. Ukraine is especially eager to ensure the lucrative use of its aerospace and aircraft production capacities, which now depend heavily on joint projects with Russia.

The NATO delegation and the Ukrainians described the participation of Ukrainian troops in the NATO-led Balkan peacekeeping, most recently in Kosovo, as mutually satisfactory. Robertson termed its presence in Kosovo a “first-class performance by the Ukrainian military.” Meanwhile, in Macedonia, Ukraine is embarking on a program of military assistance to that NATO-supported government. Last month, the Council of Defense Ministers of Southeastern European Countries–which are NATO member and candidate countries–admitted noncandidate Ukraine with the status of an observer country. Chairing the Council’s special session, Donald Rumsfeld noted that the move responds to Ukraine’s course toward Euroatlantic integration and its peacekeeping role in the Balkans (UNIAN, June 6).

Recently, Ukraine handed over to Macedonia four Mi-24 combat helicopters and four SU-25 ground-assault planes. On July 2 in Kyiv, Kuzmuk and his Macedonian counterpart Vlado Buckovski signed preliminary agreements on Ukrainian assistance to the development of an aviation maintenance network and an armored vehicles repair installation in Macedonia and to the training of Macedonian air crews (UNIAN, July 2).

U.S. General William Kiernan, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, chaired the Kyiv symposium on “Ukraine and NATO: Making the Right Choices for the Twenty-First Century.” The meetings in Kyiv resulted in an agreement to hold a NATO-Ukraine summit next year in Prague, apparently in conjunction with NATO’s own summit which is expected to mark a new round of the alliance’s enlargement (UNIAN, DINAU, Ukrainian Television First Channel, July 5-6; Kievskiye Vedomosti, July 6; Zerkalo Nedeli, July 7; see the Monitor, February 7, March 19, May 11).