No NATO plan for Ukraine. What Zelenskyy and Biden promised — and did not promise — each other

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy (front, left) and US President Biden (front, right) in the White House. Photo: president.gov.ua 

International, Opinion

Article by: Serhiy Sydorenko

Editor’s Note

The Joint statement on strategic partnership that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joseph Biden signed on 2 September in the White House has been called a success. However, what it does not contain is as revealing as what it contains, particularly — the lack of any clear NATO promises, writes European Pravda editor Serhiy Sydorenko.

Javelins, reform plan, and $2.5 bn of military aid: Ukraine and USA sign joint statement on strategic partnership

Formally, the document marks the result of the meeting of the two presidents, but in reality, the text was approved by Kyiv and Washington beforehand and is rather a reflection of the collective sentiments towards Ukraine in the US government. It also showcases the main expectations from Ukraine that Kyiv agreed to publicly confirm.

No NATO Membership Action Plan

The primary problem for Ukraine reflected by the statement is that the current US administration is not ready to support Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO; paradoxically, there were more positive signals in this direction from the Trump administration.

However, neither is there a refusal. Rather, the Biden administration still deciding what to do with Ukraine and is reserving opportunities to turn Washington’s policies one direction or the other.

This is why the bloc ambitiously titled “Supporting Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic Aspirations” actually does not contain any phrase for such support. The USA simply tells about “Ukraine’s right to decide its own future foreign policy course…including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO” and promises abstract help to “Ukraine with ongoing reforms.”

You will not find support for giving Ukraine a NATO Membership Action Plan, the next step towards Ukraine’s integration with the Alliance, or even the standard phrase “one day Ukraine will become a NATO member.” This is no coincidence: numerous diplomatic sources have told that a part of the top-state representatives of the USA are skeptical of Ukraine’s further rapprochement with NATO and had urged Kyiv to forget about the Membership Action Plan in the runup of the meeting.

However, Zelenskyy had not heeded this advice: at the press conference in Washington DC, he confirmed that he questioned his American colleague about Ukraine’s NATO prospects and insisted that the USA should be more active:

“We talked a lot about it. We spent a lot of time on NATO. We have arguments we haven’t talked about yet … I feel that the president supports Ukraine in granting NATO membership, but it’s hard for me to say what the path will be,” Zelenskyy answered journalists’ questions.

Is Ukraine getting closer to NATO membership?

Reform plan and Zelenskyy’s promises

While the topic of NATO membership is indeed problematic, the joint Ukraine-USA statement contains predominantly good news for Ukraine. This includes promises of US security assistance. Here is one quote:

“The United States is announcing a new $60 million security assistance package, including additional Javelin anti-armor systems and other defensive lethal and non-lethal capabilities, to enable Ukraine to more effectively defend itself against Russian aggression. The United States has committed $2.5 billion in support of Ukraine’s forces since 2014, including more than $400 million this year alone.”

US promises of assistance include a further $45 mn to deal with consequences of Russian aggression in Donbas, promises to supply an additional batch of COVID-19 vaccine, etc.

But strategically more important are the points of the joint declaration concerning structural changes in Ukraine. Here, it was Kyiv, not Washington, taking up commitments. These include:

  • continuation of the judicial reform;
  • election of the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office “in accordance with the best international practices” (recently Ukraine has consistently disrupted this competition);
  • adoption of legislation to protect the powers of the current director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine and ensure a transparent and reliable process of selection of his successor;
  • introduction of a number of norms concerning the protection of human rights, etc.

“Historical event” as Ukraine finally adopts all legislation for judicial reform

And, most importantly, in the nearest time, a new reform plan is expected to appear — the “plan of transformation” of Ukraine.

The joint declaration tells about it thus:

“Ukraine is developing an ambitious and comprehensive Plan of Transformation, which will be considered at the next meeting. of the Strategic Partnership Commission (of Ukraine and the USA).”

The document does not specify what the plan will contain, but this promise is placed in the block devoted to the reform of the judiciary, the fight against corruption, the promotion of human rights, etc.

New relations with the USA

One more important result of the meeting was a decision to revive the work of the Strategic Partnership Commission of Ukraine and the USA — a permanent mechanism that is called to confirm that the special relationship of the two countries is not an empty declaration.

This Commission has not worked since 2018 and now its relaunch is planned. And, according to the declaration and our sources, its rules of operation will change. Foreign Minister Kuleba and Secretary of State Blinken have to approve them at a meeting of the commission in autumn, the document says. It is within this commission that the key issues of cooperation will be considered, it is it that must approve the reform plan and agree on the details of its implementation, and so on.

The economy was not left behind either.

The United States has already allocated $3 bn to fund business projects in priority areas. According to our sources, these are infrastructure projects that will be financed by the EXIM bank, a US government institution.

So there will still be news in the American direction.

Editor’s Note

One more important aspect of the declaration is the two countries’ commitment to liberating the political prisoners and captives held in the occupied territories. The statement mentions this problem in a separate point:

“Ukraine and the United States intend to continue holding Russia accountable for ongoing systemic abuses in the territories of Ukraine controlled or occupied by Russia and to seek the release of political prisoners and hostages held in these territories.”

Президент України Володимир Зеленський просить президента Сполучених Штатів Америки вплинути на Росію заради звільнення українських полонених та політв’язнів; українська делегація передала в Білий дім список із 450 осіб.

Speaking to the press before the meeting of the two presidents in Washington DC, Zelenskyy told that he asked Joseph Biden to influence Russia to free the Ukrainian captives and political prisoners, meaning the circa 100 political prisoners held in Russia and occupied Crimea, and hundreds of Ukrainian captives in Russian-occupied Donbas. The Ukrainian delegation provided the White House with a list of 450 persons.

“This is a very sensitive issue. This morning we handed over to your team, Mr. President, a list of all Ukrainian prisoners, we have prepared them, these lists are people who are in the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas, in the temporarily occupied Crimea, in Russia, Moscow.

There are about 450 people. What role, what assistance can the United States provide?” Zelenskyy said.

Pregnant, tortured, seriously ill: the women devoured by concentration camp of Russian-occupied Donbas

 

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