The 2021 Brussels NATO summit: triumph or defeat for Ukraine?

Opening speech by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO 2030 Brussels Forum. Photo: nato.int 

International

Article by: Yulii Rudenko
Edited by: Alya Shandra

On 14 June 2021, the Capital of Europe hosted the 31st summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the course of the formal meeting, the Alliance officials reaffirmed that “Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance with the Membership Action Plan (MAP) as an integral part of the process,” provoking various reactions. What does this summit’s decision really mean for Ukraine?

Ukraine-NATO relationship in brief

This year’s NATO summit brought the heads of state and heads of the Alliance to the negotiating table to enhance trans-Atlantic ties and discuss ways to prepare NATO for the future. The direction for NATO’s development is set out in the 2030 agenda, which refers to Russia and China as “threats.”

Today’s Russia indeed poses danger to global security, but most acutely the peril is felt in Ukraine, against which Russia is waging a hybrid war for the seventh year in a row. As the Alliance regards sovereignty, independence and stability of Ukraine as a “key to Euro-Atlantic security,” the cooperation between Ukraine and NATO has been reinforced since 2014, in the wake of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. NATO has inter alia increased its military presence in the Black Sea and intensified maritime cooperation with Ukraine. In 2016, Ukraine was granted the Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP), comprising the advisory mission at the NATO Representation to Ukraine as well as 16 capacity-building programmes and Trust Funds. And in 2018, Ukraine was officially given an aspiring member status.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at the end of the one-day gathering of allied leaders. Photo: nato.int

This was followed by changes in Ukrainian domestic policy. Id est, the Parliament of Ukraine adopted laws proclaiming NATO membership as a strategic foreign and security policy objective. In 2019, a respective constitutional amendment became operative. And Ukraine’s National Security Strategy issued in 2020 by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy established Ukraine’s aim to become a NATO member.

In spring 2021, Ukraine pointed out little progress in NATO’s “open-door” policy with regard to accepting Ukraine as its member and denounced NATO’s failure to invite Ukraine to the summit of 14 June 2021.

“We understand the desire of the allies to hold a closed summit … but we do not understand how it is possible not to invite Ukraine,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, said.

Dmytro Kuleba’s Twitter account

Ukraine was given hope for NATO membership back in 2008, at the Bucharest summit. Today, in 2021, war-torn Ukraine makes no secret of its disappointment with the progress:

“When we in Ukraine are accused of too slow reforms, what can we say about the adoption and implementation of the decisions of the alliance, which have been covered with dust for 13 years?” Kuleba commented.

Ned Price, the U.S. Department of State spokesman, noted that the “open door” policy is applicable for states meeting the standard for membership and emphasized that Ukraine should do its homework as for the “reforms necessary to build a more stable, democratic, prosperous and free country.”

In the escalation of the conflict in spring 2021, when Russia deployed more than 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine (the biggest mobilization since the outbreak of the war), President Zelensky urged the Alliance to enhance its presence in the Black Sea region and called upon President Biden Washington to support Ukraine is its request for a NATO membership action plan at the Brussels summit.

Ukraine was not present at the NATO summit in Brussels on 14 June 2021 but was an issue at stake for international leaders.

What are the implications of the Brussels summit for Ukraine?

The Ukrainian and Georgian cases were likened in the summit’s Communiqué, just like at the 2008 Bucharest summit. This entails a positive interim result, believes Serhiy Sydorenko, editor of European Pravda. In his opinion, this “gives Kyiv a chance for further rapprochement with the Alliance. However, it does not guarantee success.”

Official photo of NATO Allies. Photo: nato.int

As well, for the first time, the Communiqué refers to Ukraine with the same wording as used for Georgia since 2018 — that Ukraine will become a NATO member and the Membership Action Plan (MAP) will be an integral part of this process.

“We reiterate the decision made at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance with the Membership Action Plan (MAP) as an integral part of the process.”

This reference to the Membership Action Plan, which was not a step easily reached: several days before the summit, the draft Communiqué made no mention of it, Dmytro Kuleba told on his Facebook page.

“We… literally badgered it [the reference to MAP] out of them in the last movement thanks to our own perseverance, an honest conversation with NATO, and the firm support of our key friends,” said Ukraine’s Foreign Minister.

The Communiques made after the 2014, 2016, and 2018 NATO summits did not mention a MAP for Ukraine. As well, yesterday’s declaration has a wider context, because this is essentially a new NATO action plan in which the United States has reconciled with the rest of the Allies, and now with new forces, the Alliance will work to achieve its goals, support certain friends, including Ukraine, and deter certain rivals, including Russia, Kuleba believes.

“So, given the context, this is a very good declaration for us. But I always honestly tell my partners that good declarations should be followed by good actions. And the best such action is to provide Ukraine with a MAP in 2022,” Kuleba said.

He stressed that Ukraine has already made enough reforms to obtain the MAP, but stated that in continuing reforms, Ukraine should not accept a situation when some NATO member states use the pretext of reforms in Ukraine as an excuse to hide their unwillingness to irritate Russia.

“Ukraine will be a member of NATO. There is agreement on this both in the Alliance and in Ukraine. And the sooner we get on the path of the MAP, the stronger Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic space in general,” summed up Kuleba.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was less diplomatic. Speaking at the forum Ukraine 30. The economy without oligarchs,” he said that Ukraine got the most that it could, but he thinks that the country “deserves more”:

“I think we really deserve to be one of the Alliance’s equally powerful countries, and we need to be invited. I think it would be fair for us to not have to beg,” Zelenskyy said.

Svitlana Zalishchuk, advisor to the head of Naftogaz, Ukraine’s largest national oil and gas company, further detailed that the exact formulation used regarding Ukraine was the subject of “difficult arguments” between NATO members and that the “battle for words” continued till the last days. She noted that while this NATO summit did not bring a breakthrough, nobody expected one.

“There is no consensus on a MAP [for Ukraine] in NATO. This is a slogan that summarizes the entire discussion on further political decisions regarding Ukraine and Georgia in the Alliance. The Kremlin is the denominator of this un-consensus. Like in 2008 in Bucharest, several European capitals continue to ‘watch out for the escalation with Russia’ that will come in response to the provision of MAPs for Ukraine and Georgia. No counter-arguments are made to the argument that not giving the MAPs did not prevent two wars the center of Europe,” she wrote on her Facebook.

Zalishchuk noted that, while there were many times when Kyiv’s position impeded positive developments in Ukrainian foreign policy, this time, it’s safe to say Ukraine has done enough in the last seven years to get a MAP.

“Today we can honestly say that the ball is in the field of our international partners,” Zalishchuk summed up.

Nevertheless, the result of the summit did cause a wave of joy within a part of the Ukrainian political establishment.

Andriy Zagorodnyuk’s Facebook page

Andriy Zagorodnyuk, the Minister of Defence of Ukraine 2019-2020, posted on his Facebook on 14 June:

“Today’s NATO summit wrapped up in a very positive note for Ukraine!!! General Communiqué [states], the decision on Ukraine’s future membership in NATO will be backed by the MAP. It does not mean the MAP has already been provided to Ukraine but all NATO member-states have supported its perspective granting. This is without a doubt a victory.”

Olga Stefanishyna, the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration since 2020, also singled out this very point of the Communiqué:

“A separate important point is where NATO states that it reiterates the decision made in the Bucharest summit in 2008 — that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance with the Membership Action Plan (MAP) as an integral part of the process.

 

NATO reaffirms all elements of this decision and subsequent decisions, including that each partner will be assessed in essence. Ukraine’s Annual National Ukraine-NATO Programs are definitely regarded as tools for promoting reforms that bring Ukraine closer to NATO.

 

Apart from that, the Alliance marks the importance of successful, extensive, sustainable and irreversible reforms, including measures against corruption, facilitation of the inclusive political process and the reform of decentralization, based upon democratic values, respect for human rights, the rights of minorities and the rule of law, will be crucial to creating the foundation for prosperous and peaceful Ukraine.”

Olga Stefanishyna speaking at the Brussels NATO Forum. Photo: her twitter

These statements appear encouraging, as after 2008, the Communiques of NATO summits were more restrained in their appraisals of Ukraine. Adding to the reassuring tone is Ukraine’s likening to Georgia.

Back in 2008, Ukraine hoped to receive the MAP but found no support with the allies, namely France and Germany. So a compromise decision for Ukraine was worked out. Ukraine was assured it would in the future become a NATO member with the help of the MAP process. But since pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych was elected as a President of Ukraine, the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration was suspended and thus, 2010 and 2012 saw no mentions of Ukraine’s possible NATO membership.

For Ukraine, being compared to Georgia is important because this country has never doubted its Euro-Atlantic plans. On the contrary, Russia’s aggression against Georgia in 2008 facilitated the state’s progress towards membership in NATO. So before 2021, Ukraine and Georgia were regarded as different cases in the Alliance circles. The intention of allies to grant Georgia the MAP was reaffirmed in 2016.

NATO’s perception of Ukraine did not change even in 2014 when Yanukovych’s regime was overthrown. And we see that NATO member states failed to mention Ukraine in the context of the membership in the 2014 and 2016 summits.

It is 2020 that is believed to have likened Ukraine and Georgia in the NATO context. In that year, Georgia even had a real chance of receiving the long-awaited MAP. But political crises got in the way of this process while Ukraine greatly advanced in its course of reforms. A combination of these factors resulted in Ukraine and Georgia becoming equally important potential members in the eyes of NATO members.

Ukraine’s task now is to spare no effort in facilitating reforms, making the progress visible, and lobbying its interests within the Westen states in order to meet the expectations entrusted upon us by the Brussels NATO summit 2021.

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

 

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Edited by: Alya Shandra

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