I don’t want to toss around phrases like “an historic day” or “an historic statement,” but the statements of NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg about NATO’s support for Ukraine’s Euroatlantic aspirations on November 7, and NATO doors opening for Ukraine on November 18 are truly important. The Alliance, it seems, has accepted the inevitable.
NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg for the first time acknowledged that Ukraine has truly striven to fully enter into the Alliance. More than that, NATO not only acknowledges but supports Ukraine’s ambition to join the organization. And this is no mere formality.
The Leader of the Alliance would not make a statement, if the new position had not been supported by all the organization’s members, without their full consensus, because in such a sensitive question as the perspective of Ukraine’s membership, independent action without consensus cannot, in principle, exist.
This past summer’s Verkhovna Rada resolution, which recognizes our goal of full membership in NATO, became the reason for such unprecedented resistance from NATO members. Even at the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission, which occurred in Kyiv in July, Stoltenberg spun his words as well as he could so that they did not sound like a recognition of the new reality. The most that he would grant is that Brussels would “take into consideration” the Verkhovna Rada’s resolution.
At the same time other European partners prevailed upon Ukraine to step back. They asked, begged, argued, even sometimes threatened Kyiv with negative consequences. “You will only make things worse for yourself,” the Western politicians and experts announced with one voice. Even long-time friends of Ukraine were certain that Kyiv would harm itself if it took steps in the direction of the Alliance.
But most importantly, they were all convinced that Kyiv simply did not have a chance at success.
“Within NATO support does not exist for a new status for Ukraine, and a refusal from the Alliance will only unbind Moscow’s arms,” argued James Sherr, a globally-recognized expert in matters of security.
But the Euro-Atlantic choice of Ukraine – this is not something or sale. It is not something which can be given up. And our allies, it seems, have begun to understand this.
Of course, Ukraine is not demanding that “Kyiv instantly receive a Membership Action Plan,” nor that “the date of entry into NATO” is determined immediately, nor other such nonsense. Membership in the Alliance must not be a goal in-and-of-itself.
Euro-Atlantic integration (which is the same as European integration) is a question of reform. Without reform the realization of Ukraine’s entry into the Alliance will not happen, however much there is talk about its European aspirations. But this case is not about Ukraine’s entry into the Alliance. This is not even on the agenda. The current agenda is the dignity of the state and the respect it receives from its partners.
If Ukraine has met the pre-requisites for the receipt of a specific status with respect to NATO, then she must receive that status. But this still has not happened.
The North Atlantic Alliance has a term for states such as Ukraine: “Aspirant Country.” This is a quote from NATO’s official website:
“Aspirant countries: Countries that have declared an interest in joining the Alliance are initially invited to engage in an Intensified Dialogue with NATO about their membership aspirations and related reforms.”
The only additional demand of Aspirant Countries is that they must adhere to the principles of the Washington Summit – that is, they must be democratic states, which observe the principles of the UN Charter, and which belong to the Euro-Atlantic space.
This status, it must be said, does not impose any obligations on NATO with regard to future membership for the “Aspirant.” The Aspirant Country at some time may receive an invitation to take part in a Membership Action Plan (MAP), or maybe it won’t; when it has completed the requirements of the MAP the country may be brought into the Alliance, or maybe not… Both decisions are exclusively political.
This raises the question: Why has Ukraine not yet received Aspirant Country Status? A logical answer to this question simply does not exist.
Has Kyiv announced its intention to join the alliance? Without doubt it has, and this is now recognized even within the Alliance. Is Ukraine part of Europe? Hardly anyone could doubt this. Maybe someone doubts whether Ukraine is a democracy? Then let someone (other than Russian officials or runaway ex-President Yanukovych) argue that out loud!
Ukraine desires to finally receive the status of “Aspirant” in relations with NATO. Currently three states have this status: Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia. We are just like our Georgian partners, who also fight with weapons in their hands against the Russians who occupy 20% of their national territory, who have already long held the status of Aspirant Country and who cooperate with NATO within the framework of “Intensified Dialogue.” More than that, back in 2005 Ukraine and NATO had already begun “Intensified Dialogue,” but afterward, under Yanukovych, all this was buried…
So why is Ukraine unable today to match Georgia? This is a rhetorical question. Not only can Ukraine match Georgia, but it must. We have what it takes to receive the status of Aspirant. We will restore Intensified Dialogue in a new status. This is only a question of time. And we have met all requirements to demand this from Brussels, even as we understand that this decision will not be a simple one for our Allies.
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