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What can Ukraine offer NATO?

Ukrainian soldiers often take part in joint exercises with NATO. Photo:
What can Ukraine offer NATO?
On 8 June 2017, the Ukrainian Parliament restored Ukraine’s course towards NATO membership. While most Ukrainians (44%) are sure that joining NATO is the best way Ukraine can achieve national security, Ukraine’s membership is still on the very distant horizon. We decided to take a look at what Ukraine can offer NATO with the help of an article written by the Institute of World Policy.

Is Ukraine a recipient, or contributor to regional security? Recently, there have been speculations that Ukraine is becoming a source of insecurity that cannot contribute to the stability and security of the transatlantic region. Over the past few years, however, Ukraine proved that it is not only able to defend itself, but also willing to share its skills and knowledge with strategic partners.

The goal of this memo is to open a discussion about qualitatively new added values for the Alliance that could complement the commonly declared advantages of Ukraine such as its unique geostrategic location, high defense expenditures, and economic potential.
A anti-Russian protest at the NATO summit in Wales on 4 September 2014. Photo: Terry Brown
A anti-Russian protest at the NATO summit in Wales on 4 September 2014. Photo: Terry Brown


Since the inception of bilateral relations in the early 1990s, Ukraine has proved itself as a reliable partner that showed its commitment to values and standards of NATO through joint military operations, counter-terrorism missions, and security sector reforms. For the past two decades, Ukraine demonstrated its commitment to principles of the transatlantic security framework through participating in the wide range of NATO-led operations.

Ukraine took part in a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and training mission in Iraq; contributed its navy to the counter-piracy initiative Ocean Shield off the coast of Somalia and counter-terrorism Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean Sea. It became the first non-member country to contribute its troops to the NATO Response Force. Ukraine provided NATO with unique airlift capabilities and actively participated in joint civil emergency exercises. Although the military cooperation has reached a strategic level, a combination of factors including the lack of political will and opposition from Russia prevented the intensification of the dialogue. Two years of conflict in eastern Ukraine has not only rallied the public and governmental support for the deeper integration in NATO structures, but also forged Ukraine into a much stronger partner with a unique set of capabilities that could be crucial for the Alliance.

Thus, the added value of Ukraine for transatlantic security framework consists of the following:

• Experience in hybrid warfare

Although the term hybrid war generated much debate, there is little doubt that Russian intervention in Ukraine incorporated the elements of the conventional, cyber, asymmetric, and informational warfare. Two years of trial and error in addressing the separatist entities, incursions of Russian troops without insignia, disinformation, and cyber attacks have given Ukraine a unique experience that can be examined to develop strategies in defense of potential targets within the Alliance and in the region as a whole. Through opening a Hybrid War Study Center in Ukraine, it would be possible to closely study the current conflict and generate insights into potential preventive measures.

• Counter-propaganda

A significant part in the success of the Russian advancement in Crimea and eastern Ukraine was due to informational technologies to rally up support before and during the crisis. Blatant disinformation campaigns pouring from domestic and international media outlets of Russian Federation has cultivated supporters not only in the affected areas, but also among the citizens of the Western countries. Not incidentally, the success of Russian informational warfare was partly due to the shortcomings of the cultural and lingual policies of the Ukrainian government toward the “hearts and minds” of its citizens who now live in the occupied territories. There is a long way ahead, but the response from the Ukrainian media, civil society, and government to the well-geared Russian propaganda machine can provide valuable insights for NATO structures, such as the Strategic Communications Center of Excellence.

• Rapid military modernization and the impact of civil resilience

Ukraine has transformed in a short period of time its obsolete armed forces into more mobile and better equipped military force that is able to withstand hybrid threats. The modernization process was in no small part shaped by the active participation of the citizen activists who served as volunteers in the times of crisis. Financial assistance from the diaspora and donations from Ukrainians at home, a synergy between the business and society to support the military cause, the resilience of Ukrainian armed forces and volunteers can serve as a blueprint for a crisis response that can be beneficial for the Alliance members that border Russia.

• Intelligence on the eastern border and the Black Sea region

Ukraine’s geopolitical position and special relations with its neighbors offer a unique perspective to the security dynamics in the Black Sea region. While cooperation in the sphere of civilian control over intelligence sector between NATO and Ukraine dates back to 2006, the recent security crisis gives an impetus for a new-level of collaboration.

• Energy security

Ukraine remains a strategic partner of the Alliance in addressing Europe’s energy security. Although the oil and gas prices are dwindling and Europe has set a course on renewable energy, natural resources would still play a major role in the short- to mid-term perspective. In the light of uncertainty regarding the alternative routes of energy delivery from Russia, the stable and reliable gas-transport system of Ukraine will serve as an indispensable component of the European energy security architecture.


Ivan Medynskyi, PhD, is a Research Fellow at the Kyiv-based Institute of World Policy.



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