September 24, 2019

Ukraine and NATO
Problems and Prospects

Victor Hvozd

August 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as the most powerful collective security system in the world. Indicative of this will be the next summit of the Alliance, scheduled for December 2019 in London. It will summarize the activities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in recent years, as well as clarify the Organization's tasks in the face of new challenges and threats to NATO and its members.

Given the importance of such issues, NATO experts are now studying them and preparing appropriate recommendations for consideration by the summit participants. At this, certain assessments on the subject matter are published in the media in order to make a preliminary run-in and find out public opinion.

The former NATO Secretary General A. Rasmussen
The former NATO Secretary General A. Rasmussen

In particular, according to former NATO Secretary General A. Rasmussen in an interview with the media ahead of the 16th Annual Meeting of the Yalta European Strategy (Kyiv, September 12–14, 2019), the range of threats to the Alliance is constantly expanding, requiring appropriate response. Such threats include (but are not limited to) Russia in the East, Islamic terrorism in the South, and China — globally.

Therefore, A. Rasmussen called for further strengthening of the defense of Eastern Europe in order to prevent the Russian attack on NATO member countries. The former Alliance leader believes the NATO summit will decide on further steps in this regard.

This will include, first and foremost, strengthening of NATO's military presence in the Baltic States and Central and Eastern Europe, improvement of Alliance infrastructure, and preparation of NATO Allied Forces to repulse Russia's possible aggression. Besides, Western experts estimate that NATO's deepening relations with its partner countries are important for European security. In this regard, the discussion on NATO's prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia and Ukraine is intensifying.


A. Rasmussen in Tbilisi
A. Rasmussen in Tbilisi

For example, on September 10, 2019, during the 5th Annual Tbilisi International Conference “Now What” (hosted by the McCain Institute) A. Rasmussen proposed a scheme for Georgia's possible accession to NATO. Under this approach, Georgia will be expected to join the Alliance without extending Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty on collective defense to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. According to the authors of the plan, this will formally remove the main obstacle to Georgia's becoming a NATO member, namely the border conflicts in the country, which is not allowed by the basic rules of the Alliance. However, this does not mean that Tbilisi is abandoning Abkhazia and South Ossetia, occupied by Russia in 2008. Following the liberation of the said territories and their return to Georgia, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty will apply to them. At the same time, A. Rasmussen substantiated his initiative with Georgia's significant progress towards Euro-Atlantic integration, which included fulfilling the overwhelming majority of Brussels requirements, Tbilisi's participation in NATO's multinational operations and exercises, as well as achieving interoperability of Georgian forces with NATO Allied Forces.

A. Rasmussen even gave an example of the practical application of the terms of membership offered to Georgia. In particular, the precedent was the accession of Germany to NATO in 1955, when Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty did not extend to its eastern part before the country was reunited in 1991.

Although the implementation of the aforementioned option will objectively guarantee Georgia's security against threats from Russia at par with other countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, it is causing quite ambiguous reactions in Georgian political circles and in the society.

Categorical opponents of A. Rasmussen's proposal are Georgia's right-wing forces. They see this as the West's attempt to reduce tensions in the region in exchange for Tbilisi's actual abandonment of their territories without any guarantee of NATO membership. Georgia's current government stays at a similar position.

In turn, Georgia's opposition forces support the initiative of the former NATO Secretary General. In their view, Georgia will be part of the Alliance without giving up its generally recognized borders, and only Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty will be restricted. At this, NATO membership will protect Georgia from Russia and will eventually become the key factor in restoring the country's territorial integrity.

Georgia is discussing this today, pointing out how a number of additional factors complicate entry, including Tbilisi's reluctance to sharpen relations with Russia, as well as internal disagreements between the government and the opposition.

However, despite all the challenges, Georgia is taking consistent steps to deepen its co-operation with NATO, focusing on its practical aspects. Therefore, even without a formal NATO membership, it is in fact already acting as an Alliance outpost in the South Caucasus.


Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Not less important for NATO is Ukraine which is at the forefront of curbing Russia's westward expansion. Therefore, the Alliance's leadership supports Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic course, provides practical assistance to it in strengthening its defense sphere and bringing it to the standards of the Alliance. But unlike Georgia, NATO is currently not considering any options for Ukraine joining the Alliance in the short term. It's all because there is no consensus in the Alliance on the Ukrainian issue, the Ukrainian population and political forces of the country have different attitudes to NATO, as well as deficiencies in the internal reform process in Ukraine (ineffective anti-corruption measures and deceleration of internal reforms).

NATO's reluctance to cross certain “red lines” in confrontation with Russia is also quite evident. Such a “red line” for Moscow is the possibility of Ukraine's joining NATO, which was announced by the leadership of the RF back in 2005 after the victory in our country of the Orange Revolution.

Under such circumstances, NATO still considers it only possible to grant Ukraine a special partnership status — NATO Enhanced Opportunity Program (EOP). Former US Secretary of State C. Rice outlined similar perspectives for Ukraine. In her view, such a partnership could be offered to Ukraine at a NATO summit in December 2019, which would be an important signal for both, Kyiv and Moscow.

Although the EOP status does not provide for the country's direct preparation for NATO membership, it demonstrates the Alliance's openness to it. Today, Georgia, Australia, Finland, Jordan and Sweden have this status. Georgia is preparing for NATO membership, and Finland and Sweden are considering such an opportunity in the face of increasing threats from Russia.


At the same time, although Ukraine has no real prospects of acquiring actual NATO membership in the near future, this in no way limits its cooperation with the Alliance and bringing the cooperation to a new level. In fact, it can take the form and depth typical of official NATO members.

The basis for this is existence of NATO and Ukraine's common interests, consolidation of the course of Euro-Atlantic integration in the Constitution of our country. The preservation of such a course as a priority direction of Ukrainian politics was confirmed by the new President of Ukraine V. Zelenskyi and Foreign Minister V. Prystaiko.

Deepening of Ukraine-NATO cooperation will be a powerful factor in deterring Russia and other countries (including Hungary) from their aggressive actions against our country, both, in the form of “hybrid” wars and direct armed attacks. And NATO will have greater opportunities to counter threats to the security of Eastern Europe by moving forward.

…Ukraine is at the forefront of curbing Russia's westward expansion…

Implementation of this approach will not require significant changes either in the domestic legislation of Ukraine or in the contractual base of relations between our state and NATO, and can be implemented by expanding the existing directions of cooperation of the parties. In particular, such actions may include:

  • closer alignment of Ukraine's national security policy with NATO's global strategy for Europe's security. An example of cooperation between the parties in this sphere is Ukraine’s giving NATO a new draft of National Security Strategy of Ukraine for the purpose of receiving recommendations and proposals;
  • integration of plans for combat use of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to the relevant plans of NATO Allied Forces in the South-Eastern direction. In fact, this possibility is opened by the new Law on Defense of Ukraine, approved by the Verkhovna Rada on September 20, 2019, which consists a set of measures to protect the state in case of an armed conflict or external aggression;
  • stepping up cooperation between the parties in the sphere of defense reform of Ukraine in accordance with NATO standards. Since 2016, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been implementing a Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP) for Ukraine. The main purpose of the CAP is to help Ukraine with enhancing its defense capabilities, as well as to ensure the interoperability of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and NATO Allied Forces. Besides, an important tool for promoting reform in Ukraine is the NATO-Ukraine Annual National Programmes;
  • enhanced intelligence cooperation, including at the strategic level in terms of identifying threats to the security of Ukraine and NATO; at the tactical level — within the framework of the exchange of information. In particular, this is already envisaged by the Law on Intelligence Agencies of Ukraine (Article 11), which was adopted in 2001. Besides, an agreement was reached in June 2019 to deepen cooperation between the Military Intelligence of Ukraine and NATO intelligence structures;
  • …Deepening of Ukraine-NATO cooperation will be a powerful factor in deterring Russia and other countries from their aggressive actions against our country…

    increasing NATO's military presence in Ukraine, which can take many forms, including by: expanding the Alliance's training missions; conducting joint military exercises; deployment of NATO ships at the Ukrainian naval bases. In this respect, the annual joint exercises of the Ukrainian Armed Forces such as Sea Breeze and Rapid Trident, conducted at Ukrainian training fields, are most illustrative;
  • development of NATO-Ukraine cooperation in other spheres of mutual interest, in particular within the framework of: jointly combating “hybrid” threats and ensuring security in the Black Sea region; Alliance's participation in the modernization of Ukraine's military infrastructure, with possible further use in its interests; cooperation in the development and production of weapons and military equipment; organization of cooperation in air defense and air traffic control; Ukraine's participation in NATO's multinational operations.

These issues were discussed during the visit of Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine D. Kuleba to NATO Headquarters on 10 September, 2019, where he met with NATO Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy B. Cadenbach and NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations J. Manza.

Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine D. Kuleba with B. Cadenbach and J. Manza at NATO Headquarters
Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine D. Kuleba with B. Cadenbach and J. Manza at NATO Headquarters

All this will create favorable conditions for fundamental changes in the relations between Ukraine and NATO, namely, our country's transition from the position of a country that, in fact, “imposes” itself on the Alliance, to the status of a full partner of the North Atlantic Alliance. Moreover, NATO's cooperation with Ukraine will make it necessary for its own interests. And this, in turn, will allow Ukraine to get real prospects of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization even without finally resolving the problems of the Donbas and Crimea.

In this context, an important role can be played by the meeting of ambassadors of NATO member countries, scheduled for October 31 in Ukraine. President of Ukraine V. Zelenskyi and Ukrainian high-ranking officials will participate in the meeting.