Ukraine needs to focus on reforming the most crucial spheres: Head of NATO Representation to Ukraine

International, Ukraine

This article is based on the second part of the interview with Mr. Alexander Vinnikov, Head of the NATO Representation to Ukraine. The discussion touches on the following Ukraine-NATO related subjects: NATO membership prospects for Ukraine, the country’s implementation of the NATO standards, issues with Hungary, plans for Ukraine-NATO cooperation and NATO-2030 agenda.

Possibility of Ukraine’s membership in NATO

Alexander Vinnikov stated in the interview that nothing has changed since the Bucharest Summit (2008), where NATO members claimed that Ukraine and Georgia will join the Alliance. The Allies is still committed to the principle of “open door.”

In 2008 NATO leaders promised Ukraine and Georgia that the countries would one day join the Western defense alliance. At that time, Germany, France, and other NATO member states, instead of offering the two countries a Membership Action Plan, pledged to invite them to join at some point in the future. Now, Ukraine is combating Russia-backed terrorist groups, Crimea remains occupied and 20% of Georgian territory as well.

However, bearing in mind that decision has to be taken in consensus between NATO countries, Ukraine needs to focus on reforming the most crucial spheres, adopting NATO standards, principles, and best practices.

“So, the country has to be ready for membership before that political assessment can be made of how the countries integration into the alliance will enhance the alliance’s security,” says Alexander Vinnikov.

The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and the Armed Forces of Ukraine report that they have already implemented 292 NATO standards and documents. This number exceeds the number of implemented standards even in NATO members.

Ukrainian New Europe Center released a discussion note covering the topic named “Progress under Zelenskyy`s presidency.” Experts agree that during Zelenskyy`s time presidency Ukraine has shown quite good dynamics in implementing NATO standards. Now Ukraine has a relevant legal framework, and the implementation process has become public.

For comparison, experts have shown a percentage of implemented standards by NATO Allies. For example, as of early 2021, 22% of NATO standards have been implemented in Montenegro, 29% in Albania, while Northern Macedonia has not reached 1% yet.

Speaking about partner countries of NATO, for example, Austria has reached 14%, meanwhile, Ukraine – 19%. We can agree that Ukraine has a very good pace in implementing those standards.

About Ukraine meeting NATO standards

Mr. Vinnikov believes that process of reform implementation in Ukraine is essential. However, not every member of NATO implemented all of those standards due to differences in each country’s circumstances. When NATO speaks about standards, it also means democracy, the rule of law, good governance, market economy, human rights, expected from each member.

During the visit of Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal to NATO Headquarters, Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO Allies are united in supporting the reform agenda. He welcomed Ukraine’s significant reforms, which support its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. The Secretary-General of NATO also emphasized the vital importance of democratic governance, the fight against corruption, and the security and defense sector reforms.

An Annual National Programme that Ukraine has with NATO is a road map for Euro-Atlantic integration. It has a monitoring mechanism to estimate at the end of each year the success of Ukraine.

The ANP is structured exactly in the same way as MAP. It has the same chapters. So, it’s important to use ANP to its max potential to get closer to NATO.”

The Annual National Programme under the NATO-Ukraine Commission is a comprehensive document that has a description of primary tasks, strategic goals, objectives, measures needed to pursue a course of Ukraine towards the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Ukraine has the ANP for 2020, and recently Government endorsed the draft Decree of the President of Ukraine on the Annual National Program for 2021.

The Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a NATO program of advice, assistance and practical support tailor-made to the individual needs of a country wishing to join the Alliance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed that obtaining the NATO Membership Action Plan is Ukraine’s top priority today.

On Ukraine’s row with Hungary

All of the practical work that we do with Ukraine has not been affected by this position,” says Mr. Vinnikov.

He notices that Ukraine continues the political dialogue with the Alliance using other platforms, maximizing their effectiveness. At the same time, NATO is looking forward to Hungary and Ukraine resolving their differences concerning the law on education in particular.

In 2019 Hungary blocked the meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. Hungarian authorities claim that Ukraine violates the rights of Hungarians living in Ukraine by adopting language law. Budapest states that Ukrainian education and language laws undermine minority rights. The other difference is about Ukraine not allowing ethnic Hungarians to hold dual citizenship.

Ukraine, in turn, insists on its right to develop the Ukrainian language on its ethnic territories. The law is one for all. Ukraine will not grant different rights to different minorities, which may eventually lead to even greater instability. Ukraine has one state language, so requiring its citizens to learn this language is an inalienable right of Ukraine as a sovereign state.

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On NATO-Ukraine joint events in 2021

Mr. Vinnikov states that this year exercises “Coherent Resilience-2020” will be held (“It will still be called Coherent Resilience 2020 despite the delay caused by COVID,” he says), preparations for which are ongoing. These practical exercises aim to work out algorithms of critical situations that may arise in the Black Sea. Ukraine and NATO will train to respond in a coordinated, timely, and competent manner to different kinds of attacks – cyber, port, seizure of transport routes, and other crises.

As to the other plans NATO Representation has this year, Alexander Vinnikov emphasizes that there will be many events dedicated to national resilience because this sphere of work is essential for the Alliance.

“This year, we also see as a priority our engagement with Ukraine on the development of some key strategic planning documents,” states Mr. Vinnikov mentioning such documents as Military Security Strategy, Strategic Defence Bulletin.

The Head of NATO Representation also underlined NATO support to Ukraine to combat the pandemic, the Alliance`s supplies of necessary equipment, shipment of disinfectants, portable oxygens concentrators, mobile X-ray units, and personal protective equipment.

During Denys Shmyhal’s visit to Brussels, the Secretary-General of NATO emphasized that NATO Pandemic Response Trust Fund will be used to deliver those critical medical supplies to Ukraine.

On NATO-2030 agenda

NATO-2030 is a strategic initiative about making sure that the Alliance is ready to face tomorrow’s challenges. The plan is to create an agenda for the Alliance in order to improve its work in all declared spheres.

There are ongoing talks within NATO about projecting the Alliance’s initiatives forward, creating new strategies in four key areas. Mr. Vinnikov mentioned such spheres as strengthening NATO’s commitment to collective defense, national resilience, preserving the Alliance’s technological edge, and updating NATO’s strategic concepts.

Alexander Vinnikov emphasizes the important role of Ukrainian officials and experts in the development of the NATO-2030 strategy.

“They provided valuable inputs to this process, particularly when it comes to thinking strategically about Black Sea security. It has been one of the major issues on the agenda, and it’s something that NATO is paying a lot of attention to,” says Mr. Vinnikov.

During the visit of Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine, Ms. Olha Stefanishyna to Brussels, she discussed with Jens Stoltenberg the question of Ukraine’s participation in the formation of the NATO-2030 agenda. They agreed that it is logical to build a concept considering Ukraine’s experience and possibilities, its strategic role for security maintenance and preservation.

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