Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 6

Kuchma’s recent reelection paved the way for the formation of a reform-oriented government and center-right parliamentary majority. The new Prime Minister, Viktor Yushchenko, the Verkhovna Rada’s new chairman, Ivan Plyushch, and the relevant committee chairmen, meeting with the allied delegation, expressed the political commitment of the cabinet and the parliamentary majority to the Ukraine-NATO distinct partnership. They seconded Kuchma’s view that such partnership strengthens Ukraine’s political independence and military security while opening Ukraine’s door to the European and Euroatlantic political and economic space.

At Kuchma’s request, the Verkhovna Rada’s new majority ratified on March 2 the Open Skies agreement and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with its additional protocols. Ukraine had signed the agreements in 1996, but the Red parliamentary leadership held up the ratification. The March 2 approval margins were 250 to 5 and 228 to 10, respectively, with the leftist side declining to vote. A key element in the NATO-Ukraine Partnership for Peace program, SOFA defines the legal status and ensures the legal protection of NATO military units and individual personnel during their presence on Ukrainian territory for exercises and other joint activities. With that agreement ratified, NATO will be able fully to utilize the Yavoriv training range and other military installations in Ukraine, thereby assisting Ukraine’s own military modernization. With the Open Skies agreement ratified as well, Ukraine will be able to join NATO countries on the military inspection flights regulated by that document. It will also legally open her own airspace to such flights, potentially including–as Russian commentators pointed out–Western military flights over Russian Black Sea Fleet bases.