Ukrainian Presidents and NATO

Will President Poroshenko be able to take Ukraine into NATO? This is the question experts of the Ukrainian foreign policy are asking today. A bit over a year ago, in February 2017, Ukrainian President promised to hold a referendum on the country’s membership in NATO before leaving office. A few days ago, Ukraine reached another important milestone in its quest for the NATO membership. On March 10, President has declared that Ukraine is officially seeking to enter into a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a formal step toward joining NATO. As a result, Ukraine has been granted a status of “aspirant country.”

According to the NATO website, the Alliance may invite aspirant countries to participate in the MAP “to prepare for potential membership and demonstrate their ability to meet the obligations and commitments of possible future membership. Participation in the MAP does not guarantee membership, but it constitutes a key preparation mechanism.”

The first president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk (1994-1999), was in favor of joining the Alliance, a position which he advocated during his presidency as well as long after. He considered membership in NATO to be the best guarantee of the security of Ukraine. Today, he still continues to publicly support Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance. In August 2017, Kravchuk was quoted that given the international situation and conflict with Russia, Ukraine “will not be able to survive” without an alliance and accession to NATO.

Leonid Kuchma (1994-2004), on the other hand, never openly declared any intention to join NATO. He usually listed three main reasons for leaving it off his foreign policy agenda: (1) NATO was not willing to let Ukraine in; (2) Ukraine was not ready and (3) attitudes Russia, which categorically rejected NATO’s presence in Easter Europe and the former Soviet Union [1]. Viktor Yushchenko (2005-2010), on the other hand, was a strong supporter of Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance and expressed country’s readiness to join the Membership Action Plan in 2006. However, the plan for NATO membership was completely abandoned in May 2010 under President Yanukovych (2010-2014).

This brings us back to the present day. In July 2017, as we reported on the pages of this website, President Poroshenko announced that he would seek an opening of negotiations on MAP as well as promised to hold a referendum on the membership in the Atlantic Alliance. Furthermore, for the first time Ukraine undertook the necessary domestic reforms to back up its claim for the membership.

There are, of course, two sides to the question of NATO membership. It is not only the Ukrainian presidents who matter in the membership decisions. Since president Trump took office, the US has sent contradictory messages on NATO and the country’s leadership of the Alliance has been uncertain. President Trump, however, has been largely supportive of Ukraine. He has recently approved sales of weapons to the country as well as deployed more tanks to NATO’s Eastern flank reassuring both Ukraine and his European allies. Whether NATO will accept a country with an on-going military conflict is also in question. It has not stopped West Germany from joining the Alliance in 1955 when GDR was under the USSR occupation. Whether the Alliance would be willing to do it again, however, remains to be seen.

Note

[1] Kuzio, Taras. 1998. “Ukraine and NATO: The evolving strategic partnership,” The Journal of Strategic Studies 21 (2): 1-30.

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