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#35 - JRL 2007-19 - JRL Home
Kennan Institute
January 8, 2007
event summary
Ukraine and NATO: Dynamics of the Relationship

Speaking at a recent Kennan Institute lecture, Volodymyr Dubovyk, associate professor, Department of International Relations, director, Center for International Studies, Odesa National University, and Fulbright-Kennan Institute research scholar, described the evolution of Ukraines relationship with NATO, and outlined the case for the country to join the alliance.

Since Ukraine gained independence in 1991, its relationship with NATO has steadily deepened, Dubovyk said. In the early years after independence, the country pursued a strategy of principled non-alignment. Dubovyk praised this strategy, as Ukraine then had nuclear weapons on its soil, and its non-aligned status alleviated fears of instability in both the West and in Russia. In 1994, Ukraine became the first country in the CIS to join the NATO Partnership for Peace program. Dubovyk emphasized that Ukraine has never objected to the expansion of NATO. This position, he said, has helped it to develop good relations with its neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe, especially Poland.

In 1997, Ukraine signed the Ukraine-NATO Charter, which expanded cooperation. During the presidency of Leonid Kuchma, relations with the alliance slowed down, but did not halt, according to Dubovyk. In 2002, an Action Plan was signed and relations continued. Ukraine indicated its intent to join NATO during Kuchmas presidency, but this statement was undermined by the presidents mistakes in domestic policy, Dubovyk said. After the Orange Revolution, the relationship between Ukraine and NATO progressed somewhat, entering a phase of intensified dialogue, he said. Much of this momentum has been lost, according to Dubovyk, as the change expected from the Orange Revolution has been slow in coming.

In Dubovyks view, the prospects for Ukraines membership have been hurt since the return of Viktor Yanukovych to the position of prime minister. This was illustrated by the prime ministers statement in Brussels on September 14 that Ukraine was not yet ready to join NATO. Dubovyk noted that the responsibility for lack of progress on membership lies entirely with Ukraine.

According to him, 80 percent of experts in Ukraine advocate membership in NATO. Common rationales include: escaping the Eurasian grey zone between established democracies and the stability of the Euro-Atlantic security system one the one hand, and autocratic and unstable space on the other; leaving the security vacuum in the CIS; putting Ukraine in a better position to face modern security challenges; improving transparency and civilian control as part of further democratization; and allowing the Ukrainian military a chance to survive and modernize.

While expert opinion in Ukraine may have reached a consensus on the question of Ukraines membership in NATO, Dubovyk noted that support among the population of Ukraine remains quite low, consistently hovering around 20-30 percent. He attributed this to several factors, including the negative associations with NATO caused by stereotypes generated by Soviet propaganda, lack of educational outreach on the part of the Ukrainian government, and negative publicity associated with the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.

Ukrainian political elites view NATO through an opportunistic prism, according to Dubovyk, and do not see it as an issue of national interests. President Viktor Yushchenko has chosen to all but ignore the issue, while his Foreign and Defense Ministries have worked steadily to prepare Ukraine for membership, he said. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych intends to pursue a multi-vectoral foreign policy similar to that pursued by Ukraine under Kuchma, and has said different things to different audiences, according to Dubovyk. Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is nominally in favor of Ukraines membership, he said, but has done little to advance Ukraine on the path toward membership or to articulate her position on this issue. Ukraines Socialist and Communist parties are staunchly opposed to membership, although their electorates are substantially smaller than those of the three main leaders, he noted.

While political infighting may send mixed signals, Dubovyk emphasized that NATO is the only viable security organization in Eurasia and in the Euro-Atlantic space, and the only option for Ukraine.