Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 8 Issue: 6

?Recent suggestions from major European chancelleries to include Russia in NATO’s decisionmaking process were individual initiatives, poorly coordinated with one another, and requiring a collective allied effort at watering them down under the deadline of upcoming summits. Although individual, and apparently improvised in some cases, these proposals are marked by a common set of omissions. One omission concerns the countries that aspire to NATO membership and/or have already established close links with NATO. As U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has remarked, the alliance can not elevate noncandidate Russia to a status above that of candidate countries and proven partners.

A closely related omission in those initiatives concerns specifically Ukraine’s relationship with the existing NATO, the enlarged NATO post-Prague, and the proposed “NATO at 20” in which Russia would have a seat, a voice and–in the vision of some initial proponents–a vote not called a veto. None of these terms and concepts have yet been clarified. But however it is defined in the next few weeks and months, and whatever its role in relation to the NATO military alliance, “NATO at 20” would in itself mark a clear departure from NATO’s established policy of developing relations with Russia and Ukraine on parallel tracks without elevating one above the other.

Earlier, that policy found expression in the parallel signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the NATO-Ukraine Distinctive Partnership Charter in 1997. Moscow, resentful all along of NATO as such and of America’s preeminence in it, has declined to take advantage of the opportunities for cooperation which the Founding Act offered and still does. Ukraine, by contrast, has developed active relations with NATO across a spectrum of military, security and international political issues. Although lagging in some respects–notably military reform–the balance sheet of NATO-Ukraine relations is clearly positive and promising, as NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson pointed out at the recent Aspen-Berlin conference devoted to the Distinctive Partnership Charter’s upcoming fifth anniversary.

Against this background, an allied decision to privilege Russia over Ukraine could send the wrong political signal to both countries. It could also lead to a situation in which some decisions that relate to Ukraine might be referred for vetting to that mechanism–now termed “NATO at 20”–of which Russia would be a part while Ukraine would not. A situation like that could place Moscow in a position superordinate to Ukraine, and might even result in interposing Moscow between Kyiv and Brussels, potentially affecting the terms of Ukraine-NATO cooperation. Safeguards would seem required in order to keep the NATO-Russia cooperation track from crossing the NATO-Ukraine cooperation track. If the latter is to fulfill its promise, those two tracks would have to be pursued, as they have been, in parallel and on the same level of institutionalization.

The Kyiv newspaper Den, which comments authoritatively on Ukraine-NATO cooperation, and which is controlled by National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk–who oversees that cooperation–recently asked the following of U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice: “NATO is offering Russia a new format of relations, which is the subject of a lively debate. We would like to know if NATO-Ukraine relations would depend on NATO-Russia relations, and whether the United States will be prepared to support a NATO-Ukraine format that would accord with both the international situation and the format of relations offered to Russia.” Rice’s answer was negative on the first count and, on the second–with respect to equivalent relations–something closer to maybe. That apparent ambiguity may be taken as a reflection of transatlantic differences and all the uncertainties surrounding the debate on “NATO at 20.”

That those uncertainties can induce a certain anxiety seemed evident from remarks last week by Marchuk himself: “We are interested in the triangular process–NATO-Russia, NATO-Ukraine, and Ukraine-Russia–becoming more transparent, trustworthy and clear. Transparency in this triangle is now very important. We have discussed this seriously and in detail.” Marchuk’s remarks make clear that Kyiv does not regard Russia-NATO and Ukraine-NATO relations as a zero-sum game, but is nevertheless preoccupied by its possible outcomes. In a similar vein, Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh declared recently at NATO headquarters in Brussels: “Ukraine welcomes deeper cooperation between NATO and Russia. The key point is that such cooperation should be forward-looking and based on democratic and transparent principles.”

On the other hand, Ukraine-NATO cooperation under the Distinctive Partnership Charter has been constrained, with damaging effects at times, by internal Ukrainian factors. These include Ukraine’s retardation in reforming its political system, its economy and its military. Western-oriented and pro-NATO circles in Kyiv are often critical of the Ukrainian leadership’s hesitancy in tackling those constraints with the necessary resolve. Ukraine’s electoral cycles–parliamentary and presidential elections held in 1998, 1999 and 2002, compounded by the immensely distracting tape scandal in 2000-2001–also limit the Ukrainian leadership’s latitude to move steadily closer to NATO.

Nevertheless, the record of Ukraine-NATO cooperation in recent years–especially since the signing of the Distinctive Partnership Charter–is on the whole impressive, and not only by comparison with Russia-NATO relations. Among the noncandidate countries, Ukraine has been by far the most active and frequent host of NATO military exercises on the ground and at sea. It has turned the Yavoriv military range–its best, and one of the best in the former Soviet Union–into a NATO training center for peacekeeping forces. It is the only noncandidate country to maintain a joint military unit with a NATO member country–the Polish-Ukrainian joint battalion, which participates in NATO peacekeeping operations. It supported NATO’s actions in Bosnia and Kosovo, “despite significant pressures to follow a different course,” as Lord Robertson put it at the recent Berlin conference (with, in this case, the word “significant” referring to Russia). From October 2001 to the present time, nearly 1,200 military flights–primarily American ones–have crossed through Ukraine’s airspace, en route from NATO Europe to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

While Moscow opposed NATO’s enlargement in Central Europe and then in the Baltic region, Ukraine all along welcomed the former and supported the latter publicly. Official Kyiv declared its interest in NATO becoming a direct neighbor of Ukraine in order to bolster the country’s security and indeed its ability to maintain balanced and constructive relations with Russia. In supporting the alliance’s Baltic enlargement, Kyiv wanted above all to bolster the principle that any European country is entitled to join the alliance of its choice. Meanwhile, Moscow was insisting that NATO would be a dangerous neighbor and that former Soviet-ruled countries are not entitled to join NATO.

Within Ukraine, the Soviet-bequeathed prejudice against NATO is steadily fading, as shown by the latest opinion survey, conducted last month and just released in Kyiv by the Oleksandr Razumkov Research Center–an institution known for promoting balanced relations between Ukraine and both the West and Russia. According to the data, a total of 51 percent of Ukrainians would variously support or accept Ukraine’s accession to NATO, with 31 percent opposed and 19 percent undecided. The findings show not just a continuing, but a somewhat accelerating positive shift in public opinion on this issue. They also show a decreasing disparity between western and eastern Ukraine in terms of attitudes toward NATO. According to the center’s director of programs, Valery Chalyi, the questioning of respondents reveals that the shift is attributable to America’s world leadership as demonstrated in its antiterrorism operations, to NATO’s support for the United States, to Russia’s presence in the antiterrorism coalition and to the improvement in NATO-Russia relations.

Ukraine’s electoral cycles and military reform remain neuralgic factors in Ukraine-NATO relations. The electoral cycles are, in turn, linked to the issue of corruption, which weighs heavily on every aspect of Ukraine’s relations with the West, while favoring relations with a Russia equally marked by the culture of corruption. Ukraine’s elections compel the president and various oligarchic “parties of power”–which are diverse and mutually competing–to seek Moscow’s political and economic favors, and at the same time to prevent Ukraine’s leftist forces from playing the Russian card. The current parliamentary election campaign, therefore, tends to inhibit official Ukrainian initiatives for upgrading the existing mechanism of NATO-Ukraine relations. With the upcoming parliamentary elections viewed as a dress rehearsal for presidential elections, that inhibiting factor may continue to make itself felt, unless Western-oriented and reformist political groups succeed in forming a majority in the new parliament, and on that basis a government capable of new initiatives.

On military reform, Ukraine needs urgently to take such overdue steps as downsizing its antiquated armed forces and modernizing their structure, closing superfluous military bases, scrapping excess weaponry and expanding its industrial conversion programs. The longer these measures are stretched over time, the greater their economic and social costs. The military reform goals form a part of Ukraine’s State Program of Cooperation with NATO for 2001-2004 and the State Program of Ukrainian Armed Forces Reform and Development until 2005. Their implementation is being assisted by the NATO-Ukraine Joint Working Group on Military Reform. Progress has been slow on the Ukrainian side, however, because of financial and political constraints.

In the post-September 11 world, moreover, it has become clear that military reform must extend to the internal troops and border guards. Ukraine must modernize these in order to cope with terrorism and transnational organized crime, drugs and weapons trafficking, and contraband and illegal migration–all of which constitute potential or actual threats to NATO’s and the European Union’s member countries and candidate countries, primarily those bordering on Ukraine.

Meanwhile, as NATO-Russia relations seem poised to forge ahead, Ukraine fears being left in a gray zone between NATO and Russia, exactly as the Baltic states feared and will rightly continue to fear until they join NATO. As Ukraine’s respected and thoughtful parliament chairman Ivan Plyushch stated recently, “Ukraine has no wish to become either a bridge or a buffer between Russia and NATO, or between Russia and the European Union. Ukraine aspires to be a full-fledged partner of those organizations.”

Cumulatively, these challenges underscore the need for a qualitative upgrading of preexisting NATO-Ukraine relations, so as to take account of the changes that have occurred since 1997 and after September 11. This upgrading should also be aimed at preserving the integrity of NATO-Ukraine relations from a non-NATO, third-party influence, and at fulfilling the potential demonstrated by the NATO-Ukraine partnership. The NATO-Ukraine partnership needs to move with the times, and it is NATO’s role to lead here as elsewhere.

“The Fortnight in Review” is prepared by senior analysts Jonas Bernstein (Russia), Stephen Foye (Security and Foreign Policy), and Vladimir Socor (Non-Russian republics). Editor, Stephen Foye. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at pubs@jamestown.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4526 43rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of “The Fortnight in Review” is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation