Both President Viktor Yushchenko and opposition leader and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych have claimed that the April 2 to 4 Bucharest NATO summit’s decision on Ukraine was a “victory.” It was a victory for Yushchenko, because NATO members promised that Ukraine would definitely be admitted to NATO one day. It was a victory for Yanukovych, whose Party of Regions opposes NATO membership, because the summit did not approve a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine. Domestic observers and the media have been considerably less certain about these interpretations than the two leaders.
‘This is an exceptional victory for Ukraine,” said Yushchenko after it had been reported on April 3 that no MAP would be approved for Ukraine but that NATO agreed in principle to admit Ukraine in the future. Speaking after a NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting on April 4, Yushchenko stressed that “a prospect of membership” was shown. “This is the essence. You should read all the rest between the lines, which is politics of compromise,” he said.
Interviewed on television on April 6, Yushchenko noted that NATO membership, not a MAP per se, is his government’s goal. “The statement by all [NATO] countries that Ukraine will be a NATO member exceeded our expectations,” said Yushchenko, adding that this was “a surprise” to him. Yushchenko dismissed a reminder by the interviewer that opinion polls showed overwhelming opposition to NATO membership among Ukrainians.
Once Ukrainians had enough information about NATO, they would accept it, he argued, citing the results of an unnamed opinion poll in which 95 percent of Ukrainians said they wanted to have more information about NATO. Yushchenko and Yanukovych agreed earlier that Ukraine could join NATO only after a nationwide referendum on the issue. Yushchenko estimated that such a referendum could be held in two years.
Yushchenko believes that a MAP will be approved for Ukraine at the NATO meeting of foreign ministers scheduled for December 2008. Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko shared the optimism of his boss. He said that a decision on a MAP would be a technical issue. “It can be made by foreign ministers or even ambassadors who are accredited [at NATO headquarters] in Brussels,” he told Channel 5. Anatoly Zlenko, a former Ukrainian foreign minister, held a different view. He told a round table in Kyiv that Ukraine should not expect a MAP in December, as such decisions are usually taken at NATO summits. The next NATO summit in 2009 will be co-hosted by France and Germany, which, he recalled, opposed approving a MAP for Ukraine at the summit in Bucharest.
Yushchenko fired the ambassadors to Russia and Germany on April 4, which prompted suggestions that his real assessment of the NATO summit results was more negative than what he said in public. Germany had been the main opponent of a MAP for Ukraine, and it is widely believed in Kyiv that Berlin acted under the influence of Moscow.
Yanukovych praised the position of France and Germany, addressing a rally of his supporters in Kyiv on April 3. He said that Ukraine should participate in creating “a new European security system, which should include blocs and neutral states like Ukraine,” rather than join NATO. In a statement released on April 4, Yanukovych said that NATO’s refusal to offer a MAP to Ukraine was a victory for the opposition. He denounced the government for what he described as “attempts to drag this country into NATO behind the citizens’ backs, without even asking the people’s opinion.”
Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, who is an opponent of NATO, shared Yanukovych’s view that the summit decisions on Ukraine were a victory for the opposition. He also denounced Yushchenko for his recent promise to increase Ukrainian presence from three to eight servicemen in the US-led mission in Afghanistan, and he called for Yushchenko’s impeachment.
Pessimism has apparently been the dominant mood among Ukrainian experts. “It was the first time that NATO has yielded to pressure from a third country [Russia],” retired General Vadym Hrechaninov told a round table in Kyiv on April 4. Hrechaninov chairs the Atlantic Council of Ukraine, a pro-NATO think tank. “This concession will affect future relations between Ukraine and NATO,” he predicted. Sociologist Iryna Bekeshkyna of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation believed that Ukraine failed a test for political maturity. She noted that Ukraine had failed to reform its courts and had been unsuccessful in combating corruption, and that Ukraine’s parliament elected last year was not functioning.
Den, which is one of the most pro-Western Ukrainian dailies and is run by the wife of former Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk, offered a negative assessment of the NATO summit. “The bitter realism of Bucharest will burden future generations,” it predicted. Den suggested that Russia held too much sway over Germany and France. Segodnya, a popular pro-opposition daily, called NATO’s decision on Ukraine Yushchenko’s “fiasco.” Another popular daily, Gazeta po-Kievski, opined that “Germany and France slapped Ukraine in the face” (Channel 5, UT1 TV, Interfax-Ukraine, April 3-4; Den, Segodnya, Gazeta po-Kievski, April 4; Inter TV, April 6).