Interviewed during his recent visit to the NATO candidate country Lithuania, President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine reviewed the development of his country’s special relationship with the Atlantic alliance during his presidency thus far. Since the signing in 1997 of the NATO-Ukraine Distinct Partnership Charter, Ukraine’s cooperation with the alliance as a non-candidate for membership has in some significant ways exceeded the level of cooperation attained by some candidate and aspirant countries. Among the former Soviet-ruled countries, Ukraine is second only to the Baltic states in terms of institutionalized cooperation with NATO.
In his interview Kuchma was able to list and claim credit for: successful participation of Ukrainian troops in NATO-led peacekeeping operations in the Balkans; the opening in Kyiv of a permanent NATO information center, the only one in any CIS country; creation of a NATO troop training center at the Yavoriv military range, Ukraine’s largest and best endowed; establishment of the joint Ukrainian-Polish battalion, UkrPolBat, the only existing joint unit of an ex-Soviet, noncandidate country with a NATO member country; initiation of military reform in Ukraine in close consultation with NATO; and Ukraine’s–including Kuchma’s personal–welcome to the alliance’s enlargement in Central-Eastern Europe and planned Baltic enlargement (Lithuanian Television, April 25).
In contrast to Moscow, Ukraine took the position that the accession of its neighbors Poland and Hungary to NATO increased stability on Ukraine’s western borders and added to Ukraine’s own security. At present–as Kuchma reaffirmed during his Lithuanian visit–Ukraine holds that the Baltic states have an unqualified right to join the alliance of their choice. Those theses not only provide a usable counterargument to Moscow’s, but also have the value of an example for the latter to choose to follow at some point.
A cautious Kuchma stopped short of mentioning the joint military exercises, held regularly on land and at sea in Ukraine by troops of NATO countries. As he was speaking, Ukrainian, Polish, and Lithuanian soldiers were jointly training under Canadian instructors at Yavoriv, for both combat and NATO-led peacekeeping operations. That training followed up on a similar one held at the Nowa Deba range in Poland. Also in late April, Ukraine and Britain held the final planning conference for the Cossack Express 2001 exercise due in June. In July, the NATO-Ukraine exercise Peace Shield-2001 is scheduled to be held in Ukraine. It will be followed by the Sea Breeze-2001 exercise with the participation of fleets from some ten NATO member and partner countries as well as Ukraine’s fleet in the Black Sea.
These achievements are the cumulative result of several years of close NATO-Ukraine relations. They could be put at risk–not immediately, but in the near term–by any further destabilization of Ukraine’s internal political situation, enfeeblement of its presidency, and a leftward and pro-oligarchic shift in the composition of its government (UNIAN, April 25-26, May 4, 8; see the Monitor, January 22, February 7, 15-16, 19, March 19, May 10).
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