Ukraine's NATO Flirting

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- “In the past statements praising Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations underlined the strategic nature of our relations with the Alliance. However, due to the level of democracy in our country as well as inconsistencies in foreign policy, they were rightly regarded as unrealized declarations and lost opportunities rather then real steps forward,” said Ukraine's head of mission to NATO Volodymyr Khandogiy.

Speaking at a lunch debate organized by Brussels-based Ludwig von Mises Institute Europe, Khandogiy, a former Ukraine foreign minister in Soviet times, stressed that Ukraine's European integration is inseparable from NATO: “I could hardly imagine Ukraine's full integration into the European economic structure without sharing security commitments. Taking into account our geopolitical situation, a lack of security pillar would make such integration incomplete and therefore unlikely.”

Volodymyr Khandogiy at NATO Headquarters

Khandogiy admits that Ukrainians, whilst favorable to joining the European Union, are not convinced about the US-led military alliance: “NATO is a performance-based organization. Intentions are important, provided they are backed by hard work. But security integration efforts alone will not bring us any closer to NATO if we do not succeed in convincing Ukrainians to get rid of the old stereotypes about NATO as an 'aggressive block'.”

The ambassador is aware that NATO integration is not for tomorrow: “We understand and accept that. Our approach is realistic and pragmatic. We do not expect radical decisions on membership to be taken immediately. Neither Ukraine nor NATO is ready for such a decision to-day.”

For Khandogiy, NATO integration is inseparable from friendly relations with Russia, the Ukraine's 'eternal strategic partner'. “It's impossible to build security in the Euro-Atlantic area without taking into consideration the interests of Russia. Moscow's statements on treating Ukraine as a sovereign and equal partner, as well as Russia's acceptance of our efforts to develop independent foreign policy sound very optimistic in this regard,” Khandogiy said.

Nonetheless, Ukraine's full NATO integration appears blocked as long as the Russian Black Sea Fleet remains in the Crimea. An agreement between the two countries, signed in May 1997, foresees the withdrawal of Black Sea Fleet from its historic base in Sevastopol by 2017. “I hope we will not wait that long. Our ambition is to become a member of NATO soon,” said Khandogiy. “Personally, I do not think that the presence of Russia's Black Sea fleet on Ukrainian territory is an obstacle to becoming a member of NATO.

At the moment, we're not discussing modalities but principles. In our discussions this issue has not been raised.” Khandogiy talks of 'new and innovative' ways of satisfying Russia, NATO and the Ukraine. “The time has not yet come to discuss this issue, but I think when it does we'll find a solution.”

Khandogiy, albeit stressing that good relations with Russia remain a priority, is frank as to the Commonwealth of Independent States: “As far as Ukraine is concerned, our parliament has never ratified the founding treaties of the CIS. Formally speaking, we are not even full members of this organization although we participate in its work and try to make it more effective.” Khandogiy would like to see a restructured body, with less Russian domination, and more practical benefits such as a free trade zone for former Soviet countries.

“The CIS was created to arrange the peaceful and orderly divorce of the former Soviet Union. That was basically the aim. This organization has lived on until now, but the effectiveness of the organization is low. Unless the CIS becomes an effective body for solving issues that concern all participants it will have no future. Still, I am far from saying it should be dissolved.”

Relations with neighboring Moldova, the former Soviet republic locked in a conflict with the separatist Transnistria regime, are also a priority: “Ukraine will enhance efforts for a settlement of Transnistria conflict. There should be no qualification of the territorial integrity of states and borders as formed historically in Europe. Although with respect to Moldova, we always emphasize that a political solution should be found by the parties concerned with international mediators, that include Ukraine.”

Source: Euro-Reporters