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Ukraine’s new NATO ambassador: my goal is to make NATO look forward to our request

Former Ukraine’s Ambassador to NATO Vadym Prystaiko. Photo: ukrinform
Ukraine’s new NATO ambassador: my goal is to make NATO look forward to our request
Article by: Serhii Sydorenko
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

On July 10, NATO participated in one of the most significant events of past decade to take place in Ukraine: the full complement of the North Atlantic Council (ambassadors of all the countries and the secretary general), as well as a number of top leaders of the North Atlantic Alliance, arrived in Kyiv to hold the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission. (The North Atlantic Council is the principal political decision-making body within NATO — Ed.).

And three days earlier President Poroshenko finally did what he has been promising the Alliance for more than two years — he appointed the head of the NATO mission, that is Ukraine’s ambassador to this organization.

Yevropeiska (European) Pravda is publishing the first interview with Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko since his appointment. Naturally, we began the interview with questions regarding the misunderstanding between Kyiv and Brussels. As has been reported, Poroshenko announced that Ukraine and NATO are beginning discussions on the Membership Action Plan (MAP), but then a NATO representative stated that this agreement has not been confirmed.

The MAP does not guarantee NATO membership

What exactly happened on Monday? Did we agree to begin a dialogue with NATO on MAP?

We proposed that the Alliance consider the possibility of starting a political dialogue that should result in Ukraine’s invitation to the MAP. A dialogue is needed to agree on how this should be done, so that the Alliance does not reject us.

Who is supposed to formally initiate the granting of the MAP — Ukraine or the Alliance?

At one time the invitation was initiated by NATO. Back in 2006 we were informed that Ukraine, in its development and interaction with the Alliance, had reached a level that would allow it to move to the next level, the Membership Action Plan.

I remember this very well since it happened in Canada, where I was the ambassador. The then NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was visiting Canada, where he organized an official dinner. All the allies were invited, as well as the representatives of the two countries outside the Alliance — Ukraine and Georgia. There the secretary general announced that at the 2006 summit Ukraine and Georgia would receive an official invitation to join the MAP.

But after that Prime Minister Yanukovych came to one of the meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission and instead of expressing thanks for this proposal he practically rejected it. Then he said that Ukraine wanted to interact only on practical matters, such as joint training, and he refused political integration

How does the accession procedure take place?

It’s a long process. First NATO Announces an open door policy, then the country expresses its interest in integration, and then it receives an invitation to the MAP and begins to implement this plan.

For almost 20 years the MAP phase has been obligatory. But it must be understood that the MAP does not guarantee membership. And what happened today? The president proposed that we discuss how to proceed. We want to hear — and perhaps the Alliance will tell us — that the MAP is not appropriate at this time but that another format is needed. Or perhaps, on the contrary, they will say: Ukraine has matured and we are inviting you to the MAP. But let’s discuss it!

NATO has already issued an official statement that there is no agreement on this issue.

At the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission on Monday the president said clearly and unequivocally: we are proposing that you consider the possibility of starting a dialogue on Ukraine’s accession to the Membership Action Plan. I agree with you that the allies did not respond “Yes, we agree, let’s begin.”

But NATO  heard the proposal and took it for consideration.

Did the NATO Representatives react to this proposal during the meeting?

No, this question was not discussed.

The dialogue with NATO should begin soon

I have already heard the indignation of European politicians and experts because the Verkhovna Rada has approved Ukraine’s goal to join NATO. Have you heard that?

Yes, I have heard it more than once and I can guess which pro-Ukrainian expert you’re talking about. I was somewhat surprised by his position.

I understand that the political and military situation has changed and that the allies are becoming more cautious. It is a shame that at the time we had the opportunity we did not take advantage of the chance to join the MAP.

Of course, there are countries in NATO that understand the significance of the Alliance and those that can see how much we have done already to contain Russian aggression against Europe and also those that believe that Ukraine will become a burden for NATO. There is no consensus on this at present.

Under these conditions, can we be sure that Ukraine is really initiating the process for joining the MAP?

Do not doubt it, we definitely will do it.

I won’t promise that this will happen in a week or a month because right now there is no agreement among the allies.

We did not want to ask for something that the allies cannot offer. But I, as the ambassador, have received the assignment: we need to begin the dialogue, calmly and diplomatically, on how Ukraine will be granted the invitation to join the MAP. I am convinced it will begin very soon.

In the NATO declarations there is a list of countries that are seeking membership, the so-called aspirant countries — Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Georgia. Why isn’t Ukraine on that list. We, too, are aspiring to membership!

Ukraine is definitely no less an “aspirant member” than Georgia. We also have better opportunities and our need for NATO is greater. But the shadow of the Russian Federation is hovering over the recognition of this fact, which is creating a “mental block” for that kind of recognition by the Alliance. I am sure that as soon as we remove this mental block, we will become not only an aspirant but also a participant in all the necessary formats.

Can we expect that our aspirations will be acknowledged soon, let’s say in the fall, after vacations?

We must aim for that. But I’ll admit right away that I realize that this will not be easy to do.

But what is the problem? This does not mean attaching Kyiv to a certain format. The fact that we are seeking membership is our decision, not NATO’s, and to recognize that fact is simply to recognize reality.

I totally agree. This is not a new format and no dialogue is needed here. Ukraine has decided that it wants to become a member of one of the security alliances, and we have the complete right to do so.

I want to draw attention to the fact that the secretary general, in his speech to Parliament and during other meetings, has stated that this decision is the inalienable right of Ukraine.

VAdym Prystaiko (right) and NATO Representative in Ukraine Oleksander Vinnikov. Photo: Crimean News
VAdym Prystaiko (right) and NATO Representative in Ukraine Oleksander Vinnikov. Photo: Crimean News

What are the arguments against Ukraine’s request for the MAP?

The only argument is reluctance to make a request before NATO is ready to satisfy it.

My goal is to reach the moment when the Alliance itself looks forward to our request and, as soon as it comes, solemnly grants Ukraine the MAP at the next available meeting.

 How do we initiate the process? Do we send a request from the leadership of Ukraine?

That option is possible and, if you remember, it had already taken place when we signed the so-called “Letter of Three” ( official letter-application for the MAP, signed in 2008 by then President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk — Ed.).

Romania’s example is interesting. At one time they prepared an open memorandum about their intention to join NATO, which all the political forces signed, even the church, which in Romania is Orthodox and local.

Perhaps some political force initiates such a process in order to demonstrate the unity of the political field, why not?

Another option is a written appeal by the head of state. It can be backed by the signatures of the heads of the other branches of government, but it does not have to be. Or the third option — to simply conduct a dialogue and when consensus is reached, to proclaim our desire at the next summit and then immediately to receive an answer on the Alliance’s support. All three options are acceptable.

Maybe it makes sense to make the request now to confirm our interest, but to point out that the Alliance can reach a decision later when we are ready — perhaps after 2020?

As a negotiator, I would not want to have that uncertainty because it will be similar to the decision of the Bucharest Summit, which proclaimed that “Ukraine will someday become a member of NATO.” But it is unknown when.

This is why I am for a completely clear statement without any “buts” And it should be done when the time is right.

Required changes in the army

What does Ukraine need to change for integration with NATO?

I want to point out that Ukraine has been working on annual programs for 10 years already and lately their content has been moving closer and closer to the MAP requirements.

These programs that we had until last year are difficult to compare with the MAP.

Everything is not perfect, but they contained 5 sections that are important for the MAP: military-defense, security, legal, political, and resources. There are people responsible for their execution, therefore they simply must be executed.

I can’t say that everything is perfect; there are problems. For example, on the one hand, we need consulting help, but on the other hand, there is our traditional inability to listen to advice.

Are you referring to the military sphere?

For the most part to the military sphere because NATO is a military-political organization after all.

We are constantly criticized for not reforming the military departments. Then when will the reform of the Department of Defense take place and the armed forces be transferred to the “J-code” organizational structure?

I would like to point out that at one time, during a different political situation, we had almost completed the transfer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to the J-code structure (organizational structure designed to ensure mutual compatibility and streamlined workflows between the levels of command – Ed). But then Yanukovych came, a Russian citizen became the minister of defense, and the army went back to the Soviet structure. But there are people in the army who remember and understand what must be done.

Regarding time frames, our documents outline an ambitious — even very ambitious — goal to complete this process by 2020, and, as an ambassador to NATO, I plan to help our armies to implement it.

… it is ambitious, but is it real?

I’m not a military person, but in my opinion it is very ambitious.

What are the other priorities for reforming to meet NATO requirements?

This is not directly related to NATO, but note that in every speech by the secretary general there was the word “corruption.” Even when he spoke with the parliamentarians on Monday, he constantly returned to this question. Unfortunately, the perception of Ukraine as a state ruled by corruption has reached the Alliance.

It is a challenge that we can address constantly and finally solve.

As for the military portion, the reforms that we have already discussed are important, as well as the introduction of civilian control over the Ministry of Defense. This does not mean that we just label the defense minister a civilian and that the problem disappears. A deep reform is needed.

There is also another focus of attention — the inclusion of women in solving political and military issues. Their role in society. These are all important things where changes are needed, but it’s difficult to implement them.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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