The reelection of President Leonid Kuchma has removed a set of temporary constraints on Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO. During most of the election year, Kuchma deemphasized that particular aspect of his foreign policy, one apt to alienate more voters in eastern Ukraine than it can attract in the western part of the country. Kuchma, moreover, needed and received political support from the Kremlin down to the wire in his reelection effort; that, too, had the effect of sidetracking Ukraine-NATO relations for the duration of the campaign. The Kremlin’s preference for Kuchma stemmed from its own concern to prevent a Red victory in Ukraine ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia. That short-term consideration prevailed over Russia’s long-term interest in forestalling the Ukraine-NATO rapprochement, which the Kuchma administration had initiated during its first term and looked set to continue if returned to office (see the Monitor, July 9, October 12, November 17). That this is now taking place should hardly come as a surprise to Moscow.
Barely one week after the November 14 election runoff, the United States-Ukraine committee on security issues–an interagency body, led by the Pentagon and Ukraine’s Defense Ministry–met in Lviv and at the Yavoriv training range in the Lviv region. On December 3-4, the Ukraine-NATO Commission conferred in Brussels at the defense ministers’ level, followed by a bilateral meeting of Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. The Lviv and Brussels meetings produced a set of Ukrainian-NATO and Ukrainian-U.S. military cooperation agreements which envision assistance to Ukraine in personnel training, military reform, military-industrial research and development, as well as the holding of joint exercises by land forces and navies of Ukraine and of NATO member countries and aspiring countries. The Yavoriv range has been designated as a training center of peacekeeping forces under NATO aegis–the first such case in any post-Soviet country, and a tribute to Ukraine’s frontrunner role in terms of hosting military exercises with NATO troops.
A Ukrainian-British military cooperation agreement was also signed during the Brussels defense ministers’ conference. This document is said to focus on personnel training, joint troop exercises and British support for the Ukrainian-Polish battalion, which has existed in operational form since 1997. Poland’s admission to NATO means that the Ukrainian-Polish battalion is the first joint standing unit ever to be maintained by a post-Soviet country with a NATO member country.
On December 15, the Ukraine-NATO Commission conferred at the Foreign Ministers’ level. It favorably rated the performance of the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent as part of the NATO-led forces in Bosnia and Kosovo. And on December 20 in Kyiv, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and the secretary of Ukraine’s Defense and Security Ministry met with the NATO member countries’ ambassadors in Kyiv. In that meeting and in an accompanying press interview of Tarasyuk, the Ukrainian side expressed the wish to move from annual to multiyear plans and programs of cooperation with NATO. The alliance’s Secretary-General George Robertson is due to visit Ukraine next month, and a session of the Ukraine-NATO Commission at the ambassadors’ level is scheduled to be held for the first time in Kyiv in March.
In a Russian press interview last week, Robertson noted the fact that Ukraine has “left Russia far behind in terms of cooperating with NATO.” He commented that this has been an effect of Russia’s policies, not NATO’s, “and if Russia continues distancing herself from NATO, it will happen through her own choice.” (UNIAN, DINAU; November 23-24, December 3-4, 8, 16, 21; Vedomosti, December 15; Fakty i kommentarii, December 21).
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