Ukraine’s attempts to become a member of NATO resemble the work of Sisyphus. Ten years ago, it seemed that we had already rolled a heavy stone up a hill of the North Atlantic alliance. But the stone tumbled downwards, crushing under itself all the achievements. The Russian-Ukrainian war did not leave illusions – the boulder has to be pushed up again. The NATO summit on July 11-12 will not be a desirable pinnacle for us. However, it is necessary to roll a stone up in the hope that the process will accelerate. It’s good that the Ukrainian question will be considered at the summit, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was invited to Brussels.

A contribution to world security

Disappointment, despair and shame are feelings that overwhelm when mentioning the movement of Ukraine to NATO. The movement ended in nothing. And in 2014 the most terrible happened – Ukraine with a weakened army was alone with the aggressor. Despite the fact that the path of our state to the opportunity of joining a powerful collective security body was long, responsible and dotted with victims.

“The cycle of cooperation with NATO is very important, and not everyone knows about it,”  Anatolii Grytsenko, Ukrainian Defense Minister (2005-2007), told in the TV program “War and Peace” (“UA: First”).  “Ukraine has long deserved the right to be a member of NATO. Since 1992, it has been active in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, the Congo, Côte D’Ivoire and other hot spots. And now, during the war, our military provides peace there. More than 50,000 Ukrainian soldiers passed through peacekeeping missions (these are three divisions). Unfortunately, there are losses – more than 50 dead.”

Ukraine participated in all NATO military operations, in particular in Iraq, Afghanistan, in the fight against piracy near Somalia, not being a member of the Alliance. However, not all NATO countries were present there. In 1994, Ukraine was the first of the former Soviet republics to join the Partnership for Peace program. In the same year, Ukraine broke up with the world third largest nuclear potential.

“Ukraine has made such a contribution to world security, having freed itself from nuclear weapons, no country has done”, Petro Garashchuk, military representative, adviser to the Mission of Ukraine to NATO in 2008-2011, said to Opinion. “Ukraine has always been an honest, straightforward, outspoken partner”.


In 2006-2008, NATO has announced an open door policy on Ukraine’s accession. In January 2008 – presentation of an official statement on the possibility of Ukraine joining the MAP (Membership Action Plan) in NATO. In April that year, the Bucharest Summit unanimously agreed on a Declaration in which Ukraine and Georgia were assured of future membership of NATO. In August 2009, the Declaration on Supplementing the Charter on a Special Partnership between Ukraine and NATO from July 9, 1997 was signed. In April 2010, Viktor Yanukovych liquidated an interdepartmental commission on Ukraine’s preparations for joining NATO and the National Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration.

Summit expectations

Last week, the Ukrainian President held a telephone conversation with Secretary General of the North Atlantic Alliance Jens Stoltenberg. Petro Poroshenko stressed that Ukraine is continuing its course of Euro-Atlantic integration and reforming the security and defense sector in accordance with NATO standards.

The President did not ignore the war by informing the NATO Secretary General of the events in Donbas and noting the importance of deploying UN peacekeepers in the occupied eastern territories. Calls for the release of all Ukrainian hostages, held in the prisons of the Russian Federation and in our occupied territories, as soon as possible, were heard from Petro Poroshenko and Jehos Stoltenberg.

The mentioning of Russia’s aggression and captives of the Kremlin are important things, but what Ukraine will really receive from the upcoming Brussels event? In what format will our country be represented? The NATO Secretary General invited the President of Ukraine to participate in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of the heads of state and government, as well as the high-level meeting of the participating states and partner countries of the “Strong Support” peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. Obviously, this will not be enough for us.

“I do not know how the preparations for the summit are going on in Ukraine, as it is not a well-covered topic in open sources because until these days there was no certainty that Hungary would unlock such an opportunity for us,”  Iryna Vereshchuk, the head of International Center of the Baltic-Black Sea Research, said to Opinion. “That is, the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission, in my opinion, will not happen”.

Hungary is not putting a stick in our wheels for the first time, blocking meetings within the framework of Ukraine-NATO cooperation because of the adoption of the Law on Education, which entered into force last fall. We are talking about a violation of the rights of the Hungarian minority in our country, regarding compulsory education in the state language.

“Active negotiations are conducted with Hungary, and where requirements are clear, Ukraine considers them,” Olesya Yakhno, a political expert, assured Opinion. “But some of them sound unrealistic, for example, that the obligatory study of the Ukrainian language concerned only state schools and not private ones. So this is exactly what is in the Law. It seems to me that part of the talk is about the political position and not real requirements to the Law. I think that after all, the Ukraine-NATO meeting will take place in the format of the Commission. But the format is not so much important as the readiness for real cooperation. And many acknowledge publicly, I mean the representatives of NATO, that Ukraine has changed a lot in the field of defense, strengthened it over the years”.

Mykola Kapitonenko, an expert at the International Center for Advanced Studies, did not exclude that tripartite meeting Ukraine-Georgia-NATO would take place instead of the Ukraine-NATO Commission meeting. This was confirmed by Serhii Dzherdzh, the chairman of the Public League “Ukraine-NATO”. According to him, both Georgia and Ukraine are striving for membership in the Alliance, and the issue of our country will be one of the main issues at the summit. In addition, Jens Stoltenberg assured that NATO will pay the highest priority to security in the Black Sea region, and this is exactly in the sphere of our interests.

“Ukraine will face a number of tasks in Brussels, namely: new models of cooperation, taking into account changes in our AFU”, Iryna Vereshchuk said. “Our military has acquired unique experience of fighting during the hybrid war, and it is already worth saying that we could be much needed for NATO”.

How will national security be appreciated?

Jens Stoltenberg congratulated our president Petro Poroshenko on the adoption of the law on National Security and Defense. This is a positive signal because before the voting in the second reading, there was a heated debate about the non-compliance of several provisions of the document with Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Individual experts did not even exclude the possibility that this is why the NATO summit could become a failure for Ukraine. (

“Our partners, assessing the reforms, cannot be all happy, but the fact that the situation is radically changing is obvious,”  said Serhii Dzherdzh to Opinion. “The fact that the Law on National Security introduces new provisions and directions on security issues, and many of the wishes of our NATO advisers are taken into account – is also obvious. As the President said, this law will be our road map for reforms on joining NATO. It seems to me that he will report on this at the summit in Brussels, and we hope that our partners will adequately appreciate the new law”.

Olesya Yakhno also has a positive opinion on the Law, in the development of which experts from NATO, the EU, the USA participated. In her opinion, the principles of delimitation of management functions, the possibility of electing a civilian minister, control by the public and politicians are important.

“All these positions are taken into account, and, of course, the Euro-Atlantic integration was declared,”  continued Ms. Yakhno. “This Law does not replace other important issues. The main thing is that it is following the same logic that Ukraine has been following for the last few years. And if three or four years ago the question of NATO was considered as such that may not have the support of the overwhelming majority of the society, now we still have such support at the level of both society and the laws adopted”.

“In general, the Law on National Security meets the interests of our allies, but this does not mean that it will give us something automatically,” Mykola Kapitonenko said to Opinion. “It brings us closer to the path of cooperation with NATO, as well as the NATO Advanced Capabilities Program, which we have set ourselves as a goal, and we probably will reach. But the question of the MAP or membership, of course, has not yet been discussed”.

MAP and Annual Program

That is, despite all the positive feedback we hope to receive at the summit, the main goal – joining NATO – will not be achieved in the long term. Even the intermediate goal – MAP – remains unattainable. Most experts are skeptical towards the status of the “post-graduate country”, received by Ukraine this year. Some say that it simply confirms Ukraine’s desire to join the Alliance. Others assure: an attempt to give this status for achievements is a PR campaign. There are even fears that we can shake up real achievements on the way to NATO.

“A major shortcoming is the Annual National Program (under the auspices of the Ukraine-NATO Commission – the author’s note), which is not fully implemented by the ministries and departments of our state,” said Petro Garashchuk. “And recently the secretary of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security and Defense, Mr. Vinnyk, asked whether Ukraine really needed it. Such a statement can outrage not only specialists but also representatives of the NATO International Secretariat and the NATO International Military Staff”.

But Ivan Vinnyk told Opinion that it’s time to come to terms with the issue of rapprochement with NATO. And the best option that we can get now is the NATO Membership Action Plan. The MAP is important, and not the annual programs.

“We need to go to a higher quality level, and this is, in my view and the views of other experts, the MAP,” the secretary of the profile committee of the VR explained. “The annual national program is an element of annual cooperation, which does not aim at achieving an unambiguous result. There are annual programs with countries that do not have the goal of becoming NATO members, for example, the Russian Federation. This is not an element of the European integration process, but of cooperation. The program can be part of the Action Plan on Ukraine’s membership in NATO. But separately without the MAP, it is not an effective instrument in terms of integration. Ukraine does not want to be in a constant dialogue, but wants to get the corresponding result. And it is impossible to achieve it through the annual programs of cooperation”.

However, the real result is too far. In NATO are accepted not only states that are strong economically and politically, but, above all, those, who have stability. Alliance analysts monitor the situation in Ukraine and perfectly understand that we have serious problems with stability.

“It’s too early to talk about Ukraine’s joining NATO, although in 2008-2010 we were very close to that,” Petro Garaschuk said. “Take the last summit in Warsaw, in the final act there was not a single item that Ukraine once can join the Alliance. Last year, a meeting of the North Atlantic Council took place in Kyiv at the level of permanent representatives. In the final document, too, there was not a single paragraph that Ukraine would become a member of NATO. Therefore, we can say anything, tear vyshyvankas (translator note: embroidered shirt) on ourselves, sing patriotic songs, but we must read the documents and look at the source. Unfortunately, the documents, issued after the NATO summits and meetings, do not meet the expectations of the society”.

“For” and “against” the plebiscite

Is there a need to hold a referendum on Ukraine’s entry to NATO? Opinion asked famous Ukrainians about this.

Oleksandr Myrny, People’s Deputy of Ukraine of the 7th convocation:

“A referendum on Ukraine’s accession to NATO is needed. It legitimizes the entry in the eyes of the minority that is against. It will also give arguments in the international arena, when Russia will throw a tantrum about “infringement of opinion”.

Olha Reshetylova, coordinator of the “Media initiative for human rights”:

“The issue of Ukraine’s integration into the North Atlantic alliance has already been resolved, it is spelled out in the Strategic Defense Bulletin until 2020. Ukraine has no other choice, because, despite the armed aggression of the Russian Federation, this is a question of our survival as a state. And all the talks about the referendum, the desire of the Ukrainian to join or not to join NATO – political manipulation, which play into the hands of Moscow. The defense sector reforms, which have been going on for more than one year, are sharpened to NATO standards, the younger generation of servicemen, who study with NATO associate themselves with Western armies. The process is started. It is another matter that the military-political leadership of the state does not always take responsibility for the obligations assumed by Ukraine before the Alliance. Officials come and go, but in general, Ukraine has firmly taken the western course”.

Taras Shamaida, co-coordinator of the movement “The Space of Freedom”:

“Two factors have a key importance for joining NATO: 1) reforms in Ukraine in general and in the defense sector and the AFU in particular, the implementation of NATO standards, 2) the political consensus in NATO – the readiness to accept Ukraine as a member. The referendum practically does not influence any of these factors. It has both advantages and disadvantages in itself. The disadvantage is the inevitable split of the society, both during the campaign and the section by the geographical indication of the voting results. Advantage – there is no law on referendum. The law of Yanukovych-Medvedchuk, fortunately, was declared unconstitutional”.

Valery Yasinovsky, journalist:

“I think there is no need in it. At least for now. Not to сlog clear question. We must avoid this expensive procedure of playing in mass festivities, which will only outrage the 100 times cursed populism. But the President, the Government should show perseverance, use all diplomatic possibilities, so that Ukraine will be there as soon as possible”.


Text: Viktor Tsvilikhovsky

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