Publication: Prism Volume: 3 Issue: 2

Ukraine and NATO Expansion

By Volodymyr Zviglyanich

The proposed NATO enlargement westward has stimulated debate among politicians and analysts in Ukraine, particularly with regard to its impact on Ukraine’s relations with the West and with Russia.

In November-December 1996, the Kiev-based Ukrainian Center for Peace, Conversion and Conflict Resolution Studies, along with the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, surveyed expert opinion in Ukraine on relations between Ukraine and NATO. The group of 44 experts surveyed included officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense and researchers of the advisory bodies to various governmental structures.

Positions of the Experts

To the question "Should Ukraine become a member of NATO?" the opinions of the experts fell into four categories.

1. "Alarmists" – 23 percent. These experts said that it was necessary to join NATO immediately, despite the absence of real conditions justifying such a move. In justifying their standpoint, they mentioned the necessity of defending Ukraine’s national security and its territorial integrity against the Russian threat. They also mentioned the necessity of joining a collective security system, and of speeding European integration.

2) "Strong Supporters" of NATO – 26.2 percent. These experts wanted Ukraine to join NATO within 3-4 years. They stressed that Ukraine is not ready to join NATO now. They said it first must adopt a proper military doctrine and develop infrastructure; increase safety standards and resolve all border disputes with neighbors, primarily Russia and Romania. The experts in this group said that the Ukrainian people also need to understand better Ukraine’s attitude toward NATO. One of the experts in this group said that "in 3-4 years, Ukraine will have representatives in NATO from the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland lobbying for its acceptance."

3) "Weak Supporters" of NATO – 33.3 percent. These experts said that Ukraine should become a member within 5-10 years, during which time there will be room to maneuver regarding the state of relations between NATO and Russia and Russia and Ukraine.

The experts in this category stressed that "due to the very difficult economic and social conditions, the non-restructured economy, the unfinished state-building process, and a lack of reforms in the army, it was unrealistic for Ukraine to join NATO within a short period of time."

4) "Opponents" of NATO – 16.7 percent. These experts did not want Ukraine to join NATO under any circumstances. They maintained that relations with Russia would deteriorate significantly should Ukraine join NATO. The underlying idea was that "our economic and spiritual interests are with Russia, we should be oriented toward it." Remarkably enough, almost no one rejected cooperation with NATO completely and only one MP considered NATO "an enemy."

The results of the poll demonstrated the political elite’s inclination to join NATO and to develop multidimensional cooperation with the Alliance. 85.5 per cent of the experts said that joining NATO did not contradict Ukraine’s national interests. Only 12.2 per cent had the opposite view, while 2.44 per cent did not express any opinion.

Opinion of the Public

At the same time, another poll conducted by Socis-Gallup and the Democratic Initiatives Fund revealed a weak understanding on the part of the public about NATO. Twelve per cent of 400 Kievites polled said that they trusted NATO, 19 percent did not trust it; 28 per cent neither trusted nor mistrusted it; and 41 per cent were undecided. Those who supported joining NATO were mostly young people, university graduates, and persons who also favored free enterprise.

The experts also said that there is a weak understanding on the part of the public about NATO. They believe that if the issue of Ukrainian adherence to NATO were put to a referendum, it would not be supported by the population; 51.2 percent of the experts evaluated the extent of the support as "medium" and 35.5 percent as small, while 9.3 percent failed to answer.

The right-wing MPs of the Supreme Rada enthusiastically applaud cooperation with NATO and are an actual lobby for the Alliance. As such, they were mentioned by 88 percent of the experts as those who could propel Ukraine toward joining NATO. The centrists in the Supreme Rada, the chief of staff of the Ministry of Defense and army generals, the leaders of finance and banking, and officers of the armed forces, according to 26-29 percent of the experts, are trailing the right-wing MPs.

So far the leaders of the enterprises of the Military-Industrial Complex who are oriented to cooperative links with Russia occupy third place in the opinion of experts among the opponents of links with NATO (60.5 percent). Pro-Russian politicians (86 percent) and left-wing MPs of the Supreme Rada (81 percent) occupy the first and second places respectively.

Experts consider the expansion of the zone of stability and security in Europe and the prevention of regional conflicts to be the chief goal of NATO enlargement eastward (58 percent). Another NATO goal is to help Europe adjust to the realities of the post-Cold War era. That was an opinion of 51 percent of the experts. Other goals, in the evaluation of experts, were as follows: creating military preconditions to curb Russian expansionism — 46.5 percent; filling the "security vacuum" in the region — 39.5 percent; supporting the countries’ of the region desire for integration into European structures — 34.9 percent. However, 25.6 percent of the experts consider NATO enlargement as a means of enforcing American hegemony in the region after the collapse of the USSR.

The current Ukrainian policy is oriented at expanding cooperation with NATO and supporting NATO’s eastward enlargement. This policy receives the support of 50 percent of the experts and is viewed as corresponding to Ukrainian national interests.


The majority of experts positively evaluate the possible consequences for Ukraine of joining NATO. From 75 to 59 percent of them mention as benefits 1) the creation of proper conditions for the reform and modernization of Ukrainian military forces; 2) admittance of Ukraine into the club of developed market democracies with effective international security guarantees; 3) the strengthening of all-European security; and 4) the creation of an effective system of civil control over the military.

One can also emphasize the presence of a pro-NATO majority among the political elite in Ukraine. Whether this elite will succeed or fail depends on Russia’s policy in the region, current and future Russian policy toward Ukraine, and international support of Ukrainian integrity.