Nato Summit Takes Stock Of Ukraine’s Performance

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 45

Meeting on June 29 at the level of heads of state and government, the NATO-Ukraine Commission reviewed implementation of the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan adopted at the alliance’s preceding summit in Prague, November 2002. The Commission’s June 29 review focused both on long-term military and security cooperation programs, and on democracy issues pegged to the October presidential election in Ukraine.

According to the Commission’s final communique, President Leonid Kuchma reaffirmed Ukraine’s determination to attain NATO membership by implementing the goals of the Action Plan. On the allies’ behalf, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer acknowledged Ukraine’s growing contribution as a “producer of security, indeed exporter of security” (Commission communique, June 29).

Those contributions take the form of participation in ongoing NATO-led and U.S.-led operations. Ukraine deploys a 1,600-strong mechanized brigade in Iraq, as well as several company- and platoon-size units with the Polish-Ukrainian battalion in the Kosovo Force under NATO command. At the Istanbul summit, the alliance accepted Ukraine’s offer to join NATO’s recently launched Active Endeavor naval patrolling operation in the Mediterranean (an Article Five operation to protect sea lanes and shipping from possible hostile actions or terror-supporting activities).

Two recent, landmark agreements broaden the scope for NATO-Ukraine cooperation programs that were already proceeding on a large scale.

The Ukraine-NATO Memorandum on Host Nation Support covers joint military exercises on Ukrainian territory, as well as transit passage of allied forces and cargoes via Ukraine to operations theaters as required (currently in Afghanistan and Central Asia). Ratified by the Verkhovna Rada in March of this year, the document simplifies and accelerates the procedures for authorizing entry and movement of allied forces on Ukrainian territory.

The Ukraine-NATO Memorandum on Strategic Airlift, signed last month, regulates the chartering of Ukrainian long-range military transport planes by the alliance or its member countries. Most European NATO allies have underspent themselves into strategic immobility. Ukrainian strategic airlift is crucial to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and important to other operations as well.

Also last month, the Verkhovna Rada ratified the U.S.-Ukraine Agreement on the Protection of Secret Information in the Defense Sector. The agreement refers to secret data that are generated in the process of U.S.-Ukraine military cooperation.

In the framework of NATO’s Capabilities Commitments (Prague, 2002), Ukraine participates in the development of allied capabilities for nuclear-bacteriological-chemical defense. This is basically a Soviet-legacy niche capability (as is the heavy-lift air transport) that Ukraine contributes to NATO and plans to modernize with allied support.

Ukraine’s military reform, a centerpiece of the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan, advances slowly due to budgetary shortfalls. In Istanbul, Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk presented Ukraine’s Strategic Defense Bulletin, a document signed into law by Kuchma on June 22, which provides a blueprint for military reform and an annual review process until 2015. Marchuk also presented the updated version of Ukraine’s military doctrine, adopted also on June 22 by the Verkhovna Rada. Both documents enshrine Ukraine’s goals to join NATO and to bring the armed forces to NATO standards (Den, June 23).

At the Istanbul summit, the Polish and Baltic delegations urged the alliance to offer Ukraine stronger reform incentives, in the form of a clearer prospect of eventual NATO membership. However, the Commission’s meeting decided to withhold any political signal in that regard until after the October 31 presidential election in Ukraine. The allies urged Ukrainian authorities to ensure the holding of a free and fair election and generally to demonstrate commitment to democratic values, rule of law, and freedom of speech and media. On those conditions, the alliance may upgrade its political relationship with Ukraine following a year-end review of Ukraine’s performance.

The Summit’s final communique “welcomed Ukraine’s determination to pursue full Euro-Atlantic integration,” and “noted the progress made in military and defense cooperation with NATO;” but it called at the same time for “consistent and measurable progress in democratic reform,” and it “require[d] stronger evidence of Ukraine’s commitment to [correct] conduct of the presidential election this autumn.” NATO leaders instructed the North Atlantic Council to review NATO-Ukraine relations after the Ukrainian presidential election, with a view to presenting recommendations for action at the December 2004 NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting (Communique by the Heads of State and Government, June 28).

Unofficially, an understanding exists that a vitiated presidential election could seriously damage NATO-Ukraine relations; and, conversely, that correct conduct of the election can result in a NATO decision to intensify their relationship, and advance in 2005 from the Action Plan to a Membership Action Plan (MAP) “irrespective of who wins,” as Marchuk concluded in Istanbul (Ukrayinska Pravda, June 29).

NATO does not personalize or politicize the issue of Ukraine’s possible candidacy for membership. For their part, Ukrainian officials from Kuchma and Marchuk on down, decline to speculate about a timeframe for MAP, let alone for attaining actual membership. They realize that such speculations would turn into political irritants; and that progress toward membership depends on Ukraine’s reform performance (a factor largely under its control) as well as on NATO’s own evolution.