[R-G] UKRAINE: Debate Over Joining NATO Erupts Again
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Sun Feb 17 00:30:15 MST 2008
UKRAINE: Debate Over Joining NATO Erupts Again
By Zoltán Dujisin
PRAGUE, Feb 15 (IPS) - Ukraine's pro-Western 'Orange' leaders seem to
be aiming at NATO membership, but face hurdles from Russia, public
opinion and even politicians in their own camp.
The debate has re-emerged after Ukrainian President Viktor
Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko and Parliament Speaker
Arseniy Yatsenyuk sent a letter to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty
Organisation) Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Ukraine
joining the organisation's Membership Action Plan (MAP) during the
Bucharest NATO summit to be held in April.
Never have all branches of power in Ukraine expressed their opinion
on NATO so clearly. It is a sign that the country's leadership is
trying to accelerate the process of euro-Atlantic integration, and
make it irreversible.
"Deep and irreversible democratic changes have today become an
objective background for solving the principal issues on complying
with the criteria necessary for NATO membership," the leaders wrote.
After 10 former states of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact joined
NATO in recent years, Moscow sees in Ukraine's aspirations a further
advancement of Western interests in its vicinity.
Furthermore, Russia is engaged in active military cooperation with
Ukraine, and has a strong military presence in Crimea.
In a recent joint press conference in Moscow, which mostly focused on
gas talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President
Viktor Yushchenko agreed that Ukraine's NATO aspirations are an
internal issue, and Putin promised not to interfere.
Nonetheless, the Russian President, in the vein of what had recently
been said by a handful of Russian officials, indicated that Ukraine's
NATO membership would force Moscow to take measures.
"Russia will strongly oppose any Ukrainian move in the direction of
NATO until Ukraine actually becomes a member. Once it is, it will
finish," Natalya Shapovalova, foreign policy analyst at the Kiev-
based International Centre for Policy Studies told IPS.
Both Russia and Ukraine are already partner states to the alliance,
and have conducted military drills with NATO member states as well.
Ukraine was even engaged in NATO operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and
Contrary to speculation in much of the media, the analyst refuses to
directly link the latest Russian-Ukrainian gas row to disagreements
over Kiev's NATO bid.
"Gas issues have a very economic nature. Gazprom holders want to earn
more and there is no secret that the price will be increasing
constantly whether Ukraine joins the MAP or not."
To quell Moscow's fears, Yushchenko promised to take legal steps that
will ensure no foreign military base can ever be built on Ukrainian
But it remains unclear if this will suffice in persuading NATO
members who maintain good relations with Moscow to accept Ukraine
into the family. Only some Eastern European members and the United
States have clearly voiced support for Kiev's membership bid.
Yushchenko and his allies hope NATO will help modernise the obsolete
Ukrainian armed forces and bring the country's legislation closer to
EU (European Union) standards -- Kiev's ultimate and consensual
foreign policy goal being EU membership.
Proponents of NATO membership also expect economic benefits in the
form of increased foreign direct investment and a growth in Ukraine's
Pro-presidential forces argue that the MAP only guarantees enhanced
cooperation but not accession, for which they are willing to hold a
Angry opposition MPs -- led by the Party of the Regions (PR) of
former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich -- have blocked the
parliament rostrum in protest, arguing the MAP will divide society.
The PR, which is believed to be covertly supporting NATO membership,
has always been cautious not to anger either its electorate or Russia.
The previous Yanukovich cabinet, which had to consider the stances of
socialist and communist coalition partners and the public, had not
attempted to join the MAP, seemingly postponing the issue.
"The issue of NATO in Ukraine is not treated as a policy option for
Ukraine's security and defence but only as a tool for political
campaigning," Shapovalova told IPS.
"The PR is putting this issue on the table so expressively only when
it is in opposition, in order to weaken the coalition and get more
scores in the eyes of their voters," the analyst notes.
Former defence minister and Yushchenko appointee Anatoliy Hrytsenko
last year even praised Yanukovich's efforts as a prime minister in
the field of Euro-Atlantic integration, and said more was done than
under their 'Orange' predecessors, leaving many observers baffled.
Incidentally, Timoshenko has also favoured what she calls a "step-by-
step" approach, for once drawing her position closer to that of her
arch-enemies from the opposition.
But Shapovalova is also sceptical of the prime minister's stance:
"Timoshenko doesn't want to show off her support of NATO because the
majority of the population is against it and she needs their votes to
win the presidential elections in 2009."
The public's changing mood on NATO has been carefully followed by
Ukrainian media and think tanks, with the latest research showing
that both ambivalence and curiosity regarding the organisation are on
However, half of Ukrainians still oppose membership whereas,
depending on the survey, only up to 30 percent would approve of it.
Supporters of NATO membership, concentrated mostly in the country's
west, tend to say it will guarantee Ukraine's independence and unity
and bring democratic development and European values.
Opponents, hailing predominantly from the east and south, see NATO as
an aggressive organisation, and fear that Ukrainians will face loss
of lives in foreign missions. (END/2008)
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