UKRAINE HOSTS HISTORIC NATO MEETING
Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 6
The North Atlantic Council (NAC) held a session in Kyiv on March 1-2 in its concurrent role as the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Attended by envoys of NATO’s nineteen allied countries and by senior officials of partner country Ukraine, the forum set major precedents: it was NAC’s first-ever session held in a nonmember country, in the now-friendly territory of a former adversary. It was also the first session by any “19+1” Commission to be hosted by a partner country, underscoring Ukraine’s frontrunner role in terms of cooperation with the alliance. NATO’s Secretary General, Lord George Robertson, termed the session and accompanying actions by the Ukrainian parliament “a historic event.”
Ukraine’s chief delegate, Foreign Affairs Minister Borys Tarasyuk, delivered a message from President Leonid Kuchma describing NATO as the most influential security organization in the post-Cold War world and a “reliable protector of democratic and economic achievements” of member and partner countries. The NATO-Ukraine partnership, according to Kuchma, is “fundamental to Euroatlantic cooperation” and also goes hand in hand with internal reforms “during this decisive stage of Ukraine’s development.” Tarasyuk for his part described the session in Kyiv as a “clear political signal of NATO’s intent to support the Ukrainian leadership’s course toward Euroatlantic integration and internal reforms.” He noted that “in Ukraine, the artificially created specter of NATO as an aggressor has almost vanished. Ukrainian citizens gradually understand NATO’s role as an alliance of democratic countries, the strongest military-political organization of our time, apt to guarantee peace and stability in the entire Euroatlantic space.”
The session reviewed the implementation of Ukraine’s State Program for Cooperation with NATO in 2000-2001, plans for joint military exercises due this year, the use of Ukraine’s Yavoriv military range as a NATO training center for peacekeeping troops, and Ukraine’s preparations for working with NATO’s Disaster Response Coordination Center and joining the Euroatlantic Disaster Response Unit. The Council positively rated the performance of Ukrainian military units with NATO peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as the participation of Ukrainian units in earthquake relief operations in Turkey and Greece. The conferees underscored the importance of NATO’s Information and Documentation Center in Kyiv–another ground-breaking presence in the ex-Soviet area. They ratified the appointment of a permanent Head of a NATO Liaison Office to Ukraine and the nomination by NATO’s Military Committee of two Ukrainian officers to SACLANT and AFSOUTH–the allied command headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, USA and in Naples, Italy, respectively.
NATO’s envoys criticized the slow pace and inadequate planning of Ukraine’s military reform. Both sides agreed to treat that reform as “the priority area for Ukraine-NATO cooperation,” with a view to downsizing and modernizing the Ukrainian forces, gradually moving from the conscript system to a professional army. The reform plans and the resource management aspects of that reform are to be discussed in the framework of the NATO-Ukraine Joint Working Group on Military Reform–the only forum of this type to have been created by the alliance and a partner country.
Very few in Ukraine and no one in NATO raises the issue of Ukraine’s candidacy for membership of the alliance at this stage. The door is not closed, however. According to Robertson, accession “is not on the agenda. The Ukrainian people should make such a decision, weighing all the pros and cons, when the time comes for it.” Following the Kyiv session, NATO envoys fanned out for meetings with regional officials and university audiences in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa–regional centers in which fairly sizable population groups remain oriented toward Russia and the political left. These meetings formed part of the educational effort that the alliance is stepping up in Ukraine and which the Kyiv information center of NATO is set to continue for the long haul.