NATO’s granting of Ukraine with the status of ‘aspirant country’ is a significant step on its path to membership and Ukraine’s fifth president, Petro Poroshenko, could be the one to take the country into NATO membership, having written a letter expressing Ukraine’s interest in being invited to enter a membership action plan (MAP) as Taras Kuzio reported on The Hill.
Aspirant countries that have expressed interest in joining NATO are invited to engage in intensified dialogue about their membership aspirations and related reforms. As the NATO website explains, ‘Aspirant countries may then be invited 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’.
Last July, the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s principal political decision-making body, held its meeting in Kyiv and intensive discussions were held between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Poroshenko. The visit marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the distinctive partnership between NATO and Ukraine, and Stoltenberg reaffirmed the Alliance’s support for Ukraine.
Three factors make NATO membership more likely under President Poroshenko. First, this is the first time that domestic reforms have been undertaken to back up foreign policy rhetoric. Security sector reforms have been extensive and are ongoing with the support of Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Poland and non-NATO member Sweden. The Polish Centre for Eastern Studies has described the army as the best that Ukraine has ever had.
Ukrainian volunteers who have traveled to the Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone since 2014 confirm that the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions today are much improved, with regard to supplies for the military — very different from the catastrophic situation in 2014 with the war in Donbas. U.S. military supplies are scheduled to arrive this year and the United States is providing training on cyber warfare.
This is important because it demonstrates that Ukraine would be a net contributor to NATO’s security, not a taker. Ukraine spends 5-6 percent of its GDP on defense, more than all NATO members except the United States. Ukrainian membership in NATO would enhance the organization’s security to a far greater extent than new member Montenegro, a country that is bitterly divided over NATO, has a large pro-Russian and anti-NATO lobby, and has a very small army.
The second factor regarding Ukraine’s likely NATO membership is that Ukraine can provide concrete advice about new Russian military tactics. Ukraine is on the frontline facing Russian aggression and it is in NATO’s interest to prevent Ukraine’s defeat; in such an eventuality, Russian troops would be on Poland’s border and inside the three Baltic states. Ukraine is the only country to have experienced Russian hybrid warfare and can provide advice and training to combat this new form of warfare.
The third factor is that there is elite and public consensus in favor of NATO membership within Ukraine. Within the parliament, hardly a pro-Russian lobby remains. The pro-Russian Party of Regions, which once dominated half of parliament, now controls only 43 members of parliament in the Opposition Bloc. Support for joining Russia President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union is at an all-time low.
President Poroshenko has proposed to change the constitution to include NATO membership and is contemplating holding a referendum on NATO membership at the same time as presidential elections next year. Public opinion has fundamentally changed in favor of NATO membership; since 2014, a majority of those surveyed between 2015 and 2017 (64 to 74 percent) support NATO membership, according to polling conducted by the Razumkov Centre.
It is important to note that most former communist states did not hold referendums to join NATO and that Ukrainian support is higher than that in Slovenia (66 percent) and Spain (57 percent). Estonia and Latvia joined NATO without referendums, which was probably wise since most of their Russian speakers do not have citizenship and the right to vote. Ukraine’s Russian speakers always have had the right to vote and, with many of them suffering casualties from Putin’s aggression, a majority of them support NATO membership.
A final note to those who argue that NATO cannot invite countries into membership with parts of their territory occupied. This argument was never used to prevent West Germany from joining NATO in 1955 when the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was under Soviet occupation.
Nothing changes in Moscow’s policies. When West Germany joined NATO, the then-USSR was against it and promoted neutrality, as in Austria. Today, Russia opposes Ukraine joining NATO and instead proposes that it become a neutral country. Such a proposition has no support within Ukraine’s political class — no one trusts Russia, which flouted the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the 1997 Treaty on Friendship recognizing Ukraine’s border.