Now that Ukraine wants NATO membership, many obstacles stand in its way
Polls show that most Ukrainians now support joining the military alliance, but not all NATO members think Ukraine belongs
Ukraine is preparing to remove a law that has legally blocked it from pursuing NATO membership. The parliamentary coalition agreement signed on Nov. 21 makes NATO membership a top priority for the government.
President Petro Poroshenko has changed his position on NATO membership in recent months as popular support has grown for the 28-nation military alliance in the wake of Russia’s forcible annexation of Crimea in March and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. More than 5,500 people have been killed in 10 months of fighting.
«It is indisputable today that Ukraine’s nonaligned status declared in 2010 has been unable to guarantee our country’s security and territorial integrity, and it needs to be repealed,» Poroshenko said in the Verkhovna Rada on Nov. 27.
Ukraine’s non-aligned status prohibited it from joining military blocs. It was cemented by a parliamentary act under President Viktor Yanukovych on July 1, 2010. This status is not spelled out in the Constitution, and the current coalition controls a large majority of 302 in the 450-seat parliament, allowing it to repeal the non-aligned act relatively easily.
“It was a lock on the door to NATO membership. Ukraine closed that door for itself to NATO membership. That was done exclusively in the interests of Russia,” said Hryhoriy Perepylytsia, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Kyiv.
The status was put in place four years after Ukraine’s failed attempt to secure a road map for joining NATO in 2008 soon after pro-western politicians won the 2005 Orange Revolution. Borys Tarasyuk, a member of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party who actively pursued NATO membership during his second tenure as foreign minister in 2005-2007, says Ukraine needs to make a number of legal adaptations.
“They need changes in two laws. The law from July 1, 2010, deleting non-bloc status and reinserting the phrase about NATO membership as an objective and the second is the law on fundamentals of national security,” he said.
Tarasyuk has pursued the repeal of Ukraine’s non-bloc status since Yanukovych was ousted by the Euromaidan Revolution in February. He introduced a draft law on March 4, proposing to delete Ukraine’s non-bloc status and reinsert NATO membership as an objective. He says his proposal originally received little support. However, in August Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk introduced a similar law and President Petro Poroshenko has recently begun to support the move.
One factor influencing Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko’s support for NATO membership is growing support for NATO membership among Ukrainians.
According to a poll conducted by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a think tank, in March 2012 only 13 percent of Ukrainians supported NATO membership. By November 2014, NATO membership was supported by the majority of Ukrainians for the first time, with 51 percent voting yes, according to a poll conducted by Rating Group, a consultancy.
NATO membership continues to be a heated issue for Ukraine and a major preoccupation for Russia, which has threatened Ukraine with serious consequences for joining. Last month, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded «a 100% guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO.”
Perepylytsia of the Foreign Policy Research Institute said Ukraine never had typical neutrality under the non-bloc status law. Rather than being a neutrality imposed by international treaty, like Austria’s, Ukraine’s non-bloc status was only imposed by its own laws and has always been a neutrality against something, in this case against NATO. He says Ukraine’s neutrality has always been imperfect because of the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. The absence of a foreign power’s military on a country’s territory is considered a fundamental aspect of neutrality.
But legal obstacles are the least of Ukraine’s problems on the way to NATO.
“The formal impediments like the non-aligned status are the lesser of the score of impediments to Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO,” said Mariana Budjeryn, a PH.D. candidate in political science at the Central European University in Budapest.
She says convincing NATO states to accept Ukraine into the bloc is the real challenge and that entails showing Ukraine has reformed its military structure and fought corruption to be qualified to receive NATO support. That will continue to prove a challenge given the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office arrest of an unnamed former director of procurement for the Ministry of Defense and discovery of $420,00 in a safety deposit box just recently.
Some also believe that repealing the non-aligned status now, at a time when Ukraine is unable to join NATO for the foreseeable future, will enrage Russia without providing a concrete benefit for Ukraine.
«The bill will exacerbate the Russian-ukrainian conflict, and will not give the expected result. Because in the next two years Ukraine’s accession to NATO would be impossible because of the position of Germany, which opposes Ukraine’s membership in NATO,» said Natalia DotsenkoBelous, a lawyer with Vasil Kisil & Partners.
Budjeryn of CEU suggests working to meet the requirements of NATO membership without alienating Russia. “Ukraine should pursue a policy of NATO ambiguity while it is getting all of the things in place to join the alliance,” she said.
Political analyst Mariana Budjeryn says that Ukraine should strive to meet the requirements of NATO membership.