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NATO Warsaw Summit: Where is Ukraine?

On July 8-9th 2016, NATO is holding its second summit since the Ukraine-Russia crisis. In Newport, Wales in September 2014 a “crisis summit” took place a few months after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. At a conference leading up to the Warsaw Summit titled: “NATO. The Enduring Alliance” organised by the Foundation for German-Polish Co-operation, I stated that “Ukraine saved NATO”. Why did I say this? 

July 9, 2016 - Taras Kuzio - Articles and Commentary

Secretary Kerry Holds Bilateral Meeting With Ukrainian President Poroshenko at NATO Summit in Wales 15138223502

In my opinion, NATO was given breathing space to re-energise and formulate new strategies to counter Russian revanchism. This was provided primarily by Ukrainian soldiers, volunteers, civil society activists and “ultra” football fans who defeated Russian President Putin’s “New Russia” project in eastern and southern Ukraine and re-took control of the bulk of the two regions of the Donbas. NATO would have had to cope with a far more expansionist and victorious Russia if – as Russian nationalists planned – Ukraine had disintegrated with large areas of the country being annexed or becoming satellite enclaves of Russia.

During the Warsaw NATO Summit, three strategic questions loom.  Firstly, the impact of Brexit, Britain’s decision to withdraw from the EU. Second, whether the Republican candidate Donald Trump will be elected next US president in November; whereas the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is a committed supporter of NATO, Trump has derided the organisation and talked of the US withdrawing. NATO only works when it is US-led. Thirdly, until 2015 only five of NATO’s 28 members (US, UK, Estonia, Poland and Greece) spent the proposed two or more per cent of GDP on defence. Ukraine spends five per cent, which is more than any NATO member – of course this is from a smaller GDP and with losses from high levels of corruption tolerated by the authorities.

The Wales and Warsaw summits will seek to deter and contain Russia which is widely viewed to be revanchist. The Atlantic Council of the USA (ACUS) called upon NATO to continue to hold the line “against Russian aggression until a new generation of Russians agree to live in peace with its neighbours”.  Unfortunately, this will be a long wait for two reasons. First, although critical of Putin’s policies in eastern Ukraine, Russian democrats support his annexation of Crimea. Second, democrats have no possibilities of coming to power in the near future in Russia.

Four battalions with 1,000 soldiers in each have been created for Poland and the three Baltic states with a fifth battalion possibly for Romania, which could be transformed into permanent forward bases. A new Black Sea Defence cluster will be composed of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey and NATO partner countries Ukraine and Georgia. Although Russia has returned as a threat to NATO, today’s world is different than that of the Cold War. Would hybrid war, which by its very nature is camouflaged and covert, trigger NATO’s Article Five of the collective defence of NATO members? This question was simulated in a BBC programme. Information warfare is an important element of hybrid war in which Russia spends a lot and Russia is a master of cyber-warfare and has hacked the email accounts of German and US political leaders.

Russia continues to be aggressively disposed towards its neighbours with threats against Finland and Sweden warning them not to join NATO. Similar threats against Ukraine and Georgia are long-standing; witness Russia’s invasion of the latter in August 2008.

Three steps that need to be undertaken by political and civic forces truly committed to Ukraine’s NATO membership: First, revanchist Russia has increased support for NATO membership in Ukraine, Finland and Sweden with support in the latter growing from 17 per cent in 2002 to 37 per cent today. Support in Ukraine has tripled from 20 to 60 per cent since 2014 (). But, unlike Georgian leaders, President Petro Poroshenko has not used the high popularity for NATO to lobby for Ukrainian membership.

Ukraine missed its best opportunity to join NATO in 2006 when “pragmatic” national democrats prioritised a grand coalition with the Party of Regions (negotiated by Liubi Druzi, Petro Poroshenko and Yuriy Yekhanurov) rather than working for Ukraine in receiving a MAP (Membership Action Plan, which prepares countries for NATO membership). If President Viktor Yushchenko had supported an orange coalition (headed by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko) then US President George W. Bush would have visited Kyiv in June, Ukraine would have received a MAP in Riga summit in November and by 2010, Ukraine could have been a member of NATO deterring Russia from attacking Ukraine.

At the Riga summit of NATO in November 2006, Yushchenko only sent Luibi Druh, Oleh Rybachuk and two younger representatives compared to the 20 young Georgians who were sent by President Mikhail Saakashvili. I attended the Riga summit as a Senior Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Today, there seems to be similar disinterest by Poroshenko as not a single Ukrainian official from Kyiv or the Embassy in Poland attended the pre-NATO summit conference in Warsaw “NATO. The Enduring Alliance.”

It seems that in the face of Kyiv’s disinterest in lobbying for NATO membership, I am fated to be Ukraine’s unofficial representative and lobbyist in NATO and the EU.

The second step focuses on the reform of the siloviki. Ukraine’s militia have become a police force and its Ministry of Internal Troops, a National Guard. Yet, there is a need for greater modernisation and reform of the command and control of the army (Ukraine had more generals than the US army). Ukraine’s generals rarely visit the front line and soldiers in the conflict zone have little respect for officers in Kyiv. NATO remains concerned about Russian penetration of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) while transformation of the still neo-Soviet and over-manned SBU and border troops is urgent.

The third step is to recognise that Poland is an extremely important supporter of NATO maintaining an open door policy for new members. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said that “NATO should uphold an open-door policy, especially when it comes to countries that are strategic in terms of their character and location.” Poland “should always be ready to assist countries which have been attacked and against which international laws have been broken”.

Building on nearly a quarter of a century of Ukraine’s co-operation with NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme, Kyiv needs to outline how Ukraine’s membership would be beneficial for NATO, particularly in the three areas below.

The first is Ukraine should offer its experience in fighting Russia’s hybrid war in analytical methodology, concepts, doctrines and lessons learned. Ukraine would provide education and training and supply experts on hybrid war and urban warfare.  Ukraine could offer its experience of fighting Russia’s hybrid war in analytical methodology, concepts, doctrines and lessons learned. Ukraine would provide education and training and supply experts on hybrid war and urban warfare. The second is Kyiv can offer the use of strategic airlift (AN-124 and AN-225), the world’s biggest transportation planes for transporting NATO troops and equipment during exercises and crises. The third is the successful Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade could be replicated with a new Romanian-Bulgarian-Ukrainian brigade.

While solidifying NATO’s eastern flank against a revanchist Russia, the Warsaw Summit should also be the occasion when Ukraine lobbies hard for NATO to recognise its vital contribution to regional security as a stepping stone to future membership. Thus far, President Poroshenko has been weak in his lobbying efforts.

Taras Kuzio has a PhD in political science from the University of Birmingham, UK, and was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. He is currently a Senior Research Associate at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University. His latest book Ukraine. Democratization, Corruption and the New Russian Imperialism (2015) is a modern political history of Ukraine from 1953 to the present.


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