As concerns the first question: the window of opportunity for Ukraine to become a full member of NATO has passed. This window of opportunity was opened by the administration of George W. Bush at the Bucharest NATO Summit in April 2008, when the US proposed Membership Action Plans (MAPs) for Ukraine and Georgia, which, in time, would lead to full membership. The MAPs were blocked by France and Germany, which brought forward that in Ukraine there did not exist a clear majority in favor of NATO membership. They excluded also a MAP for Georgia, arguing that this country was the theater of a “frozen conflict” – a strange argument, particularly for Germany, which was itself a divided and half occupied country when it entered NATO in 1955. With hindsight the Bucharest summit was a modern variant of the Munich conference. The wish of both France and Germany to appease (they called it: “not to challenge”) Russia in the former Soviet space was a sign for the Kremlin that it had a free hand in what it considered its “sphere of privileged interests.” Four months after the Bucharest summit Russia attacked Georgia. Had NATO allowed Georgia and Ukraine to join the Membership Action Plans, Russia would not have dared to attack Georgia in 2008 and even less Ukraine in 2014. These political mistakes are irreversible. Although Georgia is “moving closer to NATO”, as NATO defense ministers declared in February of this year, a majority of the NATO member states excludes membership of Ukraine. Ukraine will, therefore, remain a “partner” of NATO, as are Finland and Sweden.
This brings us to the second question: does this mean that the Warsaw NATO summit has no impact for Ukraine? No, this summit is also of importance for Ukraine, because the member states will redefine the mission and strategy of the alliance, at last recognizing the immediate threat posed by Russia’s aggressive policies against its neighboring states. Four rotating multinational battalions will be stationed in Poland and the three Baltic states. It is true, this is rather a symbolic presence and much more will be needed to deter Russian military adventures. However, NATO’s new assertiveness will also benefit “partner country” Ukraine, as the old illusions about Russia have disappeared and Ukraine is no longer considered as a “buffer country” between Russia and the West, which should be “Finlandized.” As a partner country Ukraine will participate in NATO maneuvers and exercises and fully benefit from its cooperation with the alliance. After the signing of the association agreement with the EU, Ukraine is increasingly integrating into Western structures and its vocation is to become a full member of the family of democratic European nations.
Marcel H. Van Herpen is director of the Cicero Foundation, an independent think tank specializing in Eastern Europe.
He is the author of:
“Putin’s Wars – The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism” (2014)
“Putin’s Propaganda Machine – Soft Power and Russian Foreign Policy” (2016)