On May 23, Ukraine’s presidency announced that it has decided to adopt a strategy of close integration with NATO and seek the alliance’s support for this Ukrainian goal. President Leonid Kuchma termed that goal, and the decision itself, “crucial for the fate of Ukraine.”
The National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) took the decision at its May 23 session, which Kuchma chaired. The president tasked the NSDC with drafting a strategy for Ukraine’s Euroatlantic integration (along with proposals for a new and “qualitatively higher” format of NATO-Ukraine relations), to coordinate these documents with the alliance’s top bodies and to finalize the documents in time for the November NATO summit in Prague. The Ukrainian president and prime minister have already received invitations to lead a Ukrainian delegation to that summit.
Presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytskaya quoted Kuchma as remarking during the session that “no one can fail any longer to understand that NATO is the structure that guarantees Europe’s security”–an oblique admonition to Ukraine’s pro-Russian left.
Briefing the media after the session, NSDC Secretary Yevhen Marchuk stated that it had become evident for some time that the country’s official “‘nonbloc’ status had nothing to offer to Ukraine, and in some respects was downright damaging.” This remark, too, was alluding to the balance of internal political forces that had necessitated the adoption of this status as a compromise in the 1990s.
Marchuk underscored that the Euroatlantic strategy to be adopted, and the goal itself, are long-term propositions that will also require internal transformations in Ukraine, and that the goal is “joining a security system based on NATO,” rather than becoming a member of the military alliance as such. By way of emphasizing that the step just taken is anything but declarative, he cautioned that a Ukrainian application for membership in the alliance “would, at this stage, be dismissed with a laugh.” Marchuk stated that Ukraine is not yet qualified to line up in the “membership queue” of nine countries. He observed that Ukraine needs to make further progress on economic and military reforms in order to line up in that queue. That nine-country queue includes the three Baltic states, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, all of which aspire to be invited to commence the accession procedure later this year. They, along with Macedonia, Albania and Croatia form the Vilnius Ten group of NATO aspirant countries.
What Marchuk left unsaid is that Ukraine, based on its record of close practical cooperation with NATO, may have earned a title to prompt inclusion in the aspirants’ queue. He also left it unsaid that Moscow’s reaction to the idea that Ukraine might be included in that lineup could test the nature of Russia’s goals in seeking a decisionmaking role within the alliance.
An initial roundup of reactions in Moscow suggests that the “parties of power” in the Duma are aghast at Ukraine’s step. Aleksandr Gurov of Yedinstvo, chairman of the Duma’s Committee on Security Affairs, declared that Kyiv’s move “shows that we no longer have any ‘fraternal republics.'” Gurov recommended aloud to the Russian government to retaliate by using oil and gas prices as leverage on Ukraine. In a similar vein, Gennady Raikov, head of the People’s Deputy group, warned “our Ukrainian colleagues to remember that their country’s economy sits on Russian energy, on Russian gas.” Raikov also chastised Ukraine for seeking American favors through its pro-NATO gesture. Konstantin Kosachev, first deputy chairman of the Fatherland-All Russia group, described Kyiv’s decision as “profoundly mistaken, contravening the current international trends [toward deemphasis on military alliances] and contradicting Ukraine’s own national interests, which call for friendly relations with Russia in the first place.” The chairmen of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Defense Committee, Dmitry Rogozin and Andrei Nikolaev, have not immediately weighed in. Russia’s executive branch will probably await the end of the U.S.-Russia summit before reacting.
On the liberal opposition’s side, reactions are considerably more serene, but also confused. Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right Forces in the Duma, opined that “Russia, through NATO at 20, is already a NATO member to the tune of 70 percent or 80 percent,” therefore has no reason to stop Ukraine from following suit. Nemtsov saw in Ukraine’s move an added reason for Russia to seek “full and definitive membership in NATO.” For his part, Yabloko group vice chairman Sergei Ivanenko predicted that by the time Ukraine becomes eligible for NATO membership, the alliance “will have become a completely different NATO” (Unian, Interfax, May 23; see the Monitor, May 20; Fortnight in Review, March 15).
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