Center for Strategic Decision Research


Ukraine and NATO

Dr. Janusz Onyszkiewicz
Former Polish Defense Minister
Senior Fellow, Center for International Relations, Warsaw


From the very dawn of its independence, Ukraine has had to grapple with a multitude of very serious problems. One of them has been staffing the institutions of a nascent sovereign state. While the Soviet Union existed, its cultural proximity and the absence of a major language barrier resulted in Moscow's draining Kiev of its brightest minds. Except for the few who deliberately spurned important careers in the central political or economic institutions to work for the benefit of Ukraine, those who stayed behind represented, as it were, a "lower quality." On the other hand, those who went to Russia rapidly gave in to being assimilated by the cultural and political processes. Those who remained in Ukraine's government, even those within the Ukrainian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and in various foreign missions, had no experience acting independently because all decisions had been strictly centralized at the federal Moscow level. Thus, Ukraine's government personnel had only a few provincial capabilities that had been allowed under the huge empire's umbrella, and no staff who could autonomously manage the economic, administrative, and political structures of an independent state. 

Another real problem was the close ties between Ukraine's economy and the rest of the post-Soviet area, particularly Russia. The closeness particularly concerned the defense industry, which was extensively developed in Ukraine. 

One of the most important problems, however, was the need to define Ukraine's place both in Europe and in the world, and to determine the key lines of its foreign policy. In trying to determine these points, Ukraine first had to decide the nature of its relations with Russia and the historical context Ukraine would adopt. For understandable and well-justified reasons, instating the traditions of the Kievan Rus was bound to provoke a bitter conflict with Russia, which had appropriated these traditions for centuries. Instating the traditions also meant that Ukraine and not Russia would be proud of a millennium-long history and that the Kievan Rus is of no greater relevance to Russia's history than England to the history of the United States. This problem was brought to light by Ukraine's first president, Leonid Kravchuk, who said at a special session of parliament on December 5, 1991 (immediately after the national referendum overwhelmingly approved Ukraine's independence) that "a great deal of effort has been put into severing Ukrainians from their ancient roots and showing them as a people without ancestry, and erasing their millennium-old state-building experience." 

Russia soon had to come to terms with this significant problem. But other, much more flammable problems remained. One was the issue of the large Russian minority in Ukraine, including the mainly Russian-populated Crimea that Nikita Khrushchev donated to Ukraine in 1954, though the Crimea had never been part of Ukraine before. Other thorny issues were the nuclear arms stockpile in Ukraine, the division and reallocation of conventional weapons and other military hardware, and the big satellite communications centers, early warning systems, airspace control, and management of outer-space exploration. Last, but not least, there was the tremendously difficult problem of the future of the naval bases of the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet, particularly Sevastopol. 

Defining Defense Policy

Ukraine defined its basic defense policy orientation early on. In the above-mentioned session of parliament, President Kravchuk made the announcement (backed up by earlier declarations) that Ukraine intended to become "in the future" a non-nuclear, neutral state, clearly suggesting that Ukraine did not wish to join any military alliances. By adopting that general rule, Ukraine safeguarded itself against anticipated pressure from Moscow to form a joint military alliance and hence maintain a high degree of cooperation between Ukraine's newly established armed forces and the military forces of the Russian Federation. 

Thus, from the very outset of its statehood, Ukraine adopted a policy that later came to be called "multi-vectorial" and rested on the principle of building good relations with and joining in activities with all neighbors, with no special treatment for anyone. This supported Ukraine's new ties with countries west of Ukraine, including Poland, the West European countries, and the U.S., and a relative weakening of ties with Russia. Ukraine did join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which was set up as the U.S.S.R. was being dismantled, but soon after, in 1992, chose to stay away from the Tashkent Treaty, a military alliance of post-Soviet states. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia also decided not to sign the treaty. 

On the other hand, Ukraine has initiated an intensive dialogue with its new partners in the West, going back to 1990 (Ukraine was still formally a Soviet republic then), when Poland and Ukraine signed a declaration of mutual relations. This was followed by contacts with NATO and the EU in the early half of 1992. Further milestones along this road were friendship and cooperation accords that Ukraine signed with neighbors (including Poland), but also the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed with the European Union on June 14, 1994, which, regrettably, was ratified only by the EU. In a particularly noteworthy move, in February 1994, Ukraine became the first former Soviet country to sign the Partnership for Peace agreement with NATO. 

No doubt, the final settlement of the nuclear arms issue accelerated the strengthening of Ukraine's cooperation with the Euro-Atlantic area. On December 5, 1994, President Kuchma signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) whereby Ukraine declared it would rid itself of nuclear weapons and permanently choose non-nuclear status in return for security guarantees from Russia, the U.S., and the U.K. Talks on Sevastopol and other Russian bases and installations, as well as on the division and reallocation of the Black Sea Naval Fleet, were held at the same time (though erratically). 

Ukraine's rapprochement with NATO and the European Union went hand in hand with a significant change in the country's political language. In 1997, the then-Ukrainian foreign minister declared that "today the policy of neutrality is losing its potential, though Ukraine wishes to retain a non-bloc state status.For geopolitical reasons, Ukraine cannot remain a neutral state." This meant that Ukraine would be ready for far-reaching military collaboration but without being part of any formal allied arrangements. 

At that time it was also increasingly alluded to that Ukraine's goal was to eventually join the European Union. Finally, in June 1998, President Kuchma made this point clear, when he issued a decree on "The Strategy of Ukraine's Integration with the European Union." A variety of senior Ukrainian politicians, however, were of the opinion that Ukraine should not only aim to join the European Union but the West European Union and NATO as well. 

This did not mean that outside observers regarded Ukraine's policy, orientation, and objectives as transparent and coherent. On the one hand, Ukraine was conspicuously quick in developing stronger cooperation and hence closer ties to the Euro-Atlantic structures. But on the other hand, normalizing Ukraine's relations with Russia followed a tortuous path with many reverses. 

Despite earlier declarations that Ukraine was treating the CIS as a transitional structure with which to smooth Ukraine's separation from Russia, in January 1993 President Kravchuk spoke out for that structure to endure. Less than six months later, Ukraine joined the work being undertaken to form an Economic Union within the CIS. One year later Ukraine handed over to Russia a radar station in the Crimea, an important component of Russia's early warning system. Then, in February 1995, despite its declaration of neutral status, Ukraine became part of the Russia-dominated unified CIS air defense system. 

Several years passed before Ukraine again surprised its Western partners by consenting to the transfer to the Crimea of the Russian air force unit of SU-24 advanced planes, capable of carrying nuclear weapons. It also surprised its partners by joining with Russia in 2001 to establish a joint command and control center for the warships of both countries. President Kuchma even blurted out on one occasion that Ukraine's betting on the West was a mistake. If we add to that Ukraine's increasing economic ties with Russia and the large-scale entry of Russian firms, notably in the fuels and defense sectors, into the Ukrainian market, we should not be surprised by the opinion expressed by a Ukrainian columnist in February of 2002 that "Ukraine's relations with the West are day by day heading to a dead end. 2001 marked a foreign policy reorientation towards Russia. Ukraine gave priority to the Asiatic vector of cooperation at a time when the rules of geopolitics commanded it to push ahead with European integration." 

Contradictory signals coming from Kiev fueled uncertainty about Ukraine's real rather than declared foreign policy objectives. The opposition forces began to openly attack President Kuchma by asserting that his pro-Atlantic and pro-European rhetoric was only a smoke screen for the intensifying process of integration with Russia, by which he hoped to assure himself of Moscow's much-needed support in the face of his growing political isolation at home. 

The doubts and uncertainties became aggravated by the fact that, in contrast to Poland, all parties in Ukraine did not accept its fundamental foreign policy direction. It was clear that Ukraine was a tough battleground on which the proponents of a Western orientation wrestled with those who were yearning for some form of reunion with Russia. After all, President Kuchma ran his first (though not his second!) re-election campaign on the platform of greater rapprochement with Ukraine's eastern neighbor. 

There is no doubt that many of these and other similar actions were the upshots of serious problems posed by Ukraine's inherited post-Soviet military and economic dependence on Russia. There is also no doubt that Russia did its best to play up these trump cards to retain Ukraine within its orbit and to build enduring mechanisms that would allow it to affect Ukraine's economic and defense policies in what could be called an emulation of neo-colonial techniques. Such political turnarounds also hinged on the criticism voiced by Western countries (mainly the U.S.) about the reformist standstill that existed in Ukraine, its lack of progress in the fight against corruption, the existing obstacles to a free press, and, finally, Ukraine's arms trade with blacklisted "countries of concern." 

Ukraine's flirtation with both the East and the West also was the result of the fact that Ukraine had not been accepted as a candidate for various structures of cooperation and integration, a fact particularly demonstrated by the behavior of the European Union. This fact was demonstrated again more recently, at the EU Helsinki summit, when the Union merely took note of Ukraine's European aspirations and "welcomed with pleasure its European choice." The subsequent EU-Ukraine summit in Paris brought assurances of a strategic partnership between Ukraine and the EU, but almost immediately it became clear that the Union was talking with the Russians about increased gas deliveries, bypassing Ukraine, and that the EU was supportive of Russia's position in its gas settlement dispute with Ukraine. 

It is also worth recalling a point brought to light by President Kuchma in his interview with Poland's Rzeczpospolita newspaper. President Kuchma stated that "given the present reality, one needs to recognize that both the East and the West have an interest in Ukraine's staying away from military alliances, in remaining neutral. I know well that any declared intention by our country to join the Pact [NATO] would lead to a deterioration of Russian-Ukrainian relations and provoke a sharp reaction by Moscow." 

Changes in Russia's Policies

Recently it appears that officials of the declared Ukrainian policy have made major progress in specifying its objectives and clarifying the way to achieve them. This has largely been enabled by a fundamental about-face in Russia's policy towards the West. 

Although that change had been signaled earlier, it was not until the September 11 tragedy that Russia made explicit and far-reaching declarations about its will to expand cooperation with the West, particularly the U.S., and to shelve any ambitions towards competing with the U.S. for supremacy on the global scene. Thus Russia has changed from a country not reconciled to its diminished status to a country that has accepted the present political arrangement in Europe and the world, including the leading role of the U.S. Accordingly, Ukraine, which many Western politicians saw for years as partly instrumental in "solving the Russia problem," lost its significance. Overnight it also became clear that Ukraine was no longer ahead of Russia on the road to Europe. Gone was the time when Ukraine could be proud of its advance entry into the Council of Europe. A new quality of Russia-NATO relations set in, confirmed by the announcement of the establishment of the new NATO-Russia Council. 

The possibility that Ukraine could be marginalized, which Poland had noticed quite early, finally became clear to Ukrainians. And once again Ukraine had to face an alternative that was well described by the ex-secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council (NSDC),V. Horbulin. Mr. Horbulin stated that the "inertial growth model" that lingered on in Ukraine presupposed a high probability of Ukraine's accession to the Tashkent Treaty and the predominance of Russian investment flows against the shortage of investment flows from the West. If such a scenario came to be, it would result in a sluggish economic growth linked to the overall situation in Russia; a limited scope for international cooperation with Ukraine, because Russian influence would constrain it; and an erosion of the GUUAM Group and a rapprochement with European structures determined by Russia's rapprochement with the West. The other alternative, as Horbulin put it, would be Ukraine's integration with European structures quite independent of Russia. 

In April 2002, Horbulin's successor, the present secretary of Ukraine's NSDC, Yevhen Marchuk, bluntly told the Kiev newspaper Den that Ukraine needed to hurry to adopt a strategy of relations with NATO. He added: "We must not be late, because we cannot allow a situation in which Russia would integrate with NATO ahead of us. The risk of such a contingency is very serious." Finally and unexpectedly, as a last-minute addition to its agenda, the NSDC, on May 23, 2002, adopted an important document titled "On Ukraine's Strategy in Relations with NATO." President Kuchma decreed this document in force on July 8, 2002.

According to this document, Ukraine perceives NATO as the basis of a future pan-European security system and considers its membership in the organization a strategic goal. By declaring this objective, Ukraine has definitively abandoned a "multi-vectorial" policy and has added a vital new element to its aspirations for EU membership. 


Because it is important to Ukraine's possible future membership in NATO, I would like to provide a brief overview of Ukraine's military capability. 

Let me begin by reminding you that during the Cold War period, Ukraine was the stationing ground for the second strategic wave of Soviet forces, whose objective was, once war had broken out, to support or replace the first wave of Warsaw Pact forces that had been deployed mainly in the GDR, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. After it declared its independence, Ukraine took over ownership of all armament and military stocks on its territory, therefore coming into possession of huge volumes of military hardware and stockpiles that were considered to be quite good quality for the time.  

Ukraine's military possessions today, following huge cuts in defense spending and arms and force cutbacks under the CFE Treaty, are much smaller though not bad. As of December 31, 2001, Ukraine's troop strength is at about 310,000 soldiers. These troops are equipped with almost 4,000 tanks (more than in Poland, France, and the U.K. together), over 1,200 T-72s, almost 900 advanced T-80s, and over 4,000 APCs, including almost 1,500 very good BWP-2 and BWP-3 types. On top of that, Ukraine has over 4,000 artillery systems, 240 combat helicopters, and about 2,000 aircraft, though these are mostly dated and coming to an end of their service life. Following the final redistribution of the Black Sea Naval Fleet, Ukraine received over 100 warships, including one submarine, one state-of-the-art (1999-built) missile cruiser (the "Ukraina"), several frigates, including one advanced "Hetman Sahajdaczny," and several corvettes, missile assault boats, and minesweepers. Ukraine also has numerous assault landing and transport craft, some of which were built in Poland. Also of special value is its extensive infrastructure, a network of airfields, depots, command and communications systems (including satellite-based systems), and an array of military satellites and means to control them. 

On the other hand, what was a huge and valuable military capability at the time of its takeover is now gradually deteriorating. The scarcity of defense funds is evident in Ukraine's MOD annual budget of about 700 million USD, which is as much as Hungary's and five times less than Poland's. It is no wonder that Ukraine can spend less than 50 million USD yearly on hardware retrofitting, an unusually meager amount even when compared to Poland's (approximately 900 million USD). 

Despite these difficulties, however, plus maintenance backlogs and the resulting low standard of hardware reliability as well as the depletion of operational resources, Ukraine still commands a number of capabilities particularly attractive to NATO's European members, who themselves suffer from many critical deficiencies. 

These capabilities include a big fleet of highly successful transport aircraft, including An-72s and the famed An-124 "Ruslan," with a payload of 150 tons. Also ready for operation is an even bigger plane, the An-225 "Mrija," which can hold 250 tons. Not even the United States has aircraft of that size. Poland and Germany recently used them to airlift their military contingents to Afghanistan. 

Another weaponry system attractive to NATO is the S-300, which is comparable if not superior to the U.S. "Patriot." Deployed in Ukraine's air defense forces, S-300s are highly efficient in intercepting high-speed airborne targets, including ballistic and cruise missiles. Their radar systems, led by the highly regarded passive radar "Kolchuga" (that the U.S. charged Ukraine was selling to Iraq), is also reliable. 

Ukraine's aerospace forces, however, may be the most attractive of its military elements to NATO. Throughout Ukraine, many satellite control and tracking centers are enabling command of space stations, missiles, and satellites within the so-called strategic outer-space zone. Following its deal with Russia, Ukraine owns a number of deployed military satellites.  Although what they can do is not common knowledge, we assume they assure communications and surveillance of outer space as well as the earth's surface. Ukraine is also planning to put eight more military satellites into orbit in the years ahead. This is proof that Ukraine possesses much greater capability than all of NATO's European members together. Unfortunately, it is not known to what extent the Ukrainian satellite system can operate in an autonomous way, that is, without reliance on Russia. 

As far as space technology is concerned, Ukraine is one of the world's leaders. For example, in eastern Ukraine, in Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkov, space companies are building heavy space-transport rockets such as the "Dnipro," which has successfully lifted off over 60 times to put commercial payloads from China, India, France, Great Britain, and the U.S. into orbit. 

Consequently, in contrast to many other potential candidate countries, Ukraine can make a relevant contribution to NATO's military capabilities. The Alliance's recent and clear evolution, including opening its doors to many new countries and revising the risks and missions the Alliance will primarily address, gives Ukraine an added opportunity to win acceptance for its prospective membership. 


Ukraine's decision in May 2003 to make membership in NATO a strategic goal is not a tactical ploy. As the president of Ukraine's parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, clearly stated, parliament's current political configuration guarantees support for the decision as well as any eventual legal regulations that the road to membership in both NATO and the EU may require. Equally comforting is Moscow's substantial restraint in reacting to Ukraine's decision, which was probably motivated by Moscow's own overtures towards NATO. Another important point is the noticeable change in Ukrainian society's perception of NATO, particularly by its young people and political elites. 

However, while Poland positively responded to Ukraine's declaration of intent, many Western countries responded to it with considerable reserve. They pointed out Ukraine's declaration could be a tactical ploy calculated to improve President Kuchma's image in the West, and to hijack some catchwords and take the wind out of the increasingly strong opposition's sails. 

Ukrainian accession to NATO does look more promising than prospective EU membership. After all, the European Union has not been eager to make any overture towards Ukraine. At the Luxembourg session of the EU foreign ministers, Jack Straw of the U.K. offered Ukraine only "special neighbor" status. Considering that the same status was offered to Belarus and Moldova, Ukraine received the offer with mixed feelings.  And the absence of Russia on that list was interpreted as acclaiming Russia the leader in achieving a relationship with the EU, with the three aforementioned states following suit. 

Things were even worse at the EU-Ukraine summit in Copenhagen.  Europe not only refused to recognize the market nature of Ukraine's economy, but also adamantly made future cooperative talks conditional on Ukraine's fulfillment of the commitments made in 1994, when the partnership and cooperation agreement was signed. Though the EU stopped short of openly criticizing Ukraine, it made no mention at all of Ukraine's likely membership in the EU. 

The Greek presidency of the European Union, however, has rekindled some hopes in Ukraine. Unlike Denmark, which is closing up its embassy in Kiev and shows indifference to Ukraine, Greece is regarded as a supporter of Ukraine. 

Seen against the backdrop of Ukraine's aspirations toward the EU, its prospects for joining NATO look much better. Although NATO-Ukraine relations sustained a major blow because of actions involving President Kuchma (the Gongadze affair and arms sales to embargoed nations, including the "Kolchuga" affair), because of a strong Polish diplomatic drive the Alliance, at its Reykjavik summit, took note of "strong Ukrainian determination to push ahead full scale with a Euro-Atlantic integration." It also recommended working out new mechanisms and conditions, based on the Charter of the Special NATO-Ukraine Partnership, that would elevate that relationship to a higher level. 

The  NATO-Ukraine Action Plan

The Prague summit gave NATO another opportunity to demonstrate its deep disapproval of President Kuchma. But it also came to a decision, following the Reykjavik summit's recommendations, that may prove of fundamental importance to the future of NATO-Ukraine relations, namely, the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan (NUAP). Though formally falling short of the Membership Action Plan (MAP), which accepted candidates follow, the NUAP is similar in many respects and oftentimes more specific and far reaching. This is because, while MAP addresses an entire group of states, NUAP focuses on a single country, Ukraine, and aims to create an appropriate framework for that country's full integration with NATO. MAP, on the other hand, is customized only in response to a candidate country's priority needs and possibilities. 

NUAP outlines an array of measures that Ukraine should take. As secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Yevhen Marchuk, stated, 75% of NUAP's objectives are associated with Ukraine's internal policy. These include such fundamental principles as genuine political pluralism, freedom of the media, freedom of assembly, independence of the judiciary, building of rule-of-law institutions and mechanisms, strengthening and developing civil society, fighting against corruption and money laundering, and observing international standards that affect trade in special equipment and military technologies. According to another important requirement, Ukraine must ensure the proper level of basic macroeconomic indicators, such as a low rate of inflation, a controllable budget deficit, and economic stability and steady growth. 

As part of NUAP, NATO will annually review Ukraine's progress according to the annual action timetable. NATO's International Secretariat will then publish periodic progress reports. In this way, Ukraine's road to membership, though not formally heralded by NATO, is being staked out, with reviewable support mechanisms and procedures, to meet the National Defense Policy Objectives. Now the ball is in Ukraine's court. Let us hope it will be played efficiently by both teams. 


Ukraine's relations with the European Union will have a tremendous effect on sustaining and implementing Ukraine's NATO aspirations. Although NUAP has assigned to Ukraine a complete array of objectives related to the functional nature of the state and its economy, NATO does have the skills or criteria to effectively measure Ukraine's progress in these areas. NATO also has no benchmarks against which to measure such progress. After all, Turkey, a NATO member, only recently instituted a series of important legal acts in the area of human rights and freedom of expression, but it did not do so in response to specific criteria or requirements by NATO; it did so because the European Union demanded it take these actions. As this example shows, the prospect of membership is a highly mobilizing factor, and it would be very significant if the European Union offered Ukraine slightly stronger encouragement and made more explicit commitments. 

It is quite a paradox that Turkey has been recognized as a European country while Ukraine has not. Ukraine's entry into the pre-accession process, even with complete awareness of how distant actual membership may be, will be of fundamental importance for consolidating Ukraine's pro-European and pro-Atlantic orientation, as well as for modernizing its political and economic structures and institutions. 

It would also be desirable for the Union to emulate NATO's experience building frameworks for cooperation with other countries without ruling out possible membership. NATO does this through its Partnership for Peace program in which participating countries adopt certain standards of cooperation and review to either prepare themselves to apply for membership or simply to develop ties with the Alliance. The EU could launch a similar program, perhaps Partnership for Progress, for countries such as those that Jack Straw dubbed "special neighbors." 

However, Ukraine must also realize that the path to NATO and the path to the European Union are two lanes of the same highway. Among those countries that have completed their negotiations with the EU, as well as other candidates, only two countries-Cyprus and Malta-do not wish to join NATO. While these are very small countries, it does not seem politically acceptable, at least to a decisive majority of present and future EU member-states, that a country as big and important as Ukraine could be left out of NATO. And though some countries may be tempted if that happens to loosen the bonds between European and Atlantic defense and military structures, they are not likely to find any broader acceptance for such a scenario. 

This is bound to produce a gradual and consistent adjusting of Ukrainian law (including economic law) to EU standards. The resulting economic reform will certainly encompass agriculture. Such a scenario is hardly thinkable today, but the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) is fortunately bound to change significantly, because the present system of direct payments would entirely rule out Ukraine's membership as well as that of Turkey and even Romania. 

It is worth noting at this point that membership in NATO as well as in the European Union, which currently is building its defense identity, cannot be reconciled to Ukraine's neutral or even "non-bloc" status. Thus, Article 17 of the Ukrainian Constitution (which was politically quite understandable when it was adopted), which bars foreign military bases from Ukraine, will have to come under review unless Ukraine chooses to relegate itself to a different category of membership in the Alliance. 

NUAP will determine the speed at which Ukraine reaches NATO membership. In its relations with Russia and particularly with the CIS, Ukraine (as well as a majority of if not all CIS countries) has developed a habit of light-heartedly signing multiple agreements and commitments that nobody respects or seriously attempts to enforce. NUAP, however, outlines a hefty list of actions, some very weighty, that Ukraine must address. It would be irreparably damaging if the implementation of NUAP collapsed because of Ukraine's neglect or tardiness. Therefore Ukraine's friends (Poland above all) must not only alert our partners in Ukraine to the necessity of taking a true and fair approach to fulfilling their commitments, but also assist them in fine-tuning and implementing them. Hence Poland should join as broadly as possible in the NATO actions that arise from NUAP's implementation and arrange additional consultations for our Ukrainian partners. 

The Importance of Implementing NUAP and Continuing with Modernization Activities

The importance of implementing NUAP appears to be coming to light in Ukraine. In a paper published in January 2003, the president of the Razumkov Center, Anatoli Grytsenko, wrote: "The plans that are adopted may be used for some time by our diplomats as another plaything with which to dupe the Western partners, who already know what goes on in our country and who are worried about its future. We can pretend that we are implementing this plan while our partners in NATO listen with a condescending smile to our empty reports, not paying any special attention to them. But it may be that these plans, after they are fine-tuned, will become a true engine that will pull our country forward, and, even if not any closer to NATO structures, then (even more importantly) towards the fundamental values underlying the Alliance." 

Ukraine, however, must not confine its relations with NATO to the issues related to future membership. It must continue taking part in ongoing joint operations, whether in Partnership for Peace or peacekeeping missions such as those in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Ukraine's military capabilities are very useful in many ways to present and future Allied operations, and need to be formalized into joint plans for their use. Poland in particular has an interest in the possibilities of using Ukrainian transport aircraft and in creating more and larger joint military units. 

The potential of the NATO-Ukraine Committee (NUC) also has not been fully utilized. The Alliance should respond to a greater extent to Ukrainian proposals for the NUC agenda. The proposal for intermittent joint sessions of the NATO-Russia Council and the NATO-Ukraine Committee should also be considered, especially sessions on issues relating to the fight against terrorism, military high-tech transfers, and peacekeeping operations. After all, Ukraine is a large country and should not be thought of as only a passive observer. The country also has great expertise in various advanced military technologies, and discussing their non-proliferation only with Russia or holding separate debates alternatively with Russia and Ukraine does not seem practical. 

On its road to NATO membership, Ukraine will have to address the issue of the rapid decrease of its military structural ties to Russia, such as its role in the joint CIS system of air control and defense. Similar approaches also will have to be applied to naval traffic control in the Black Sea and to the very strong links between Russian and Ukrainian outer-space capabilities. The latter issue may prove particularly difficult technically, and NATO countries that have the right expertise and technical potential (mainly the U.S.) may need to assist. 

While the presence of Russian bases and military installations in the Crimea is reconcilable with Ukraine's participation in NATO's integrated military structure, sharing important elements of air defense or military aerospace structures with a non-allied state is not. This is particularly important because Russia has not announced its aspirations for NATO membership, and, even if it does at some point, its participation (if it happens at all) will occur in the very distant future. 

These and other points should become part of the broad reform of Ukraine's armed forces as reflected in the Joint Working Group on Defense Reform. This reform, however, despite very intensive work, does not seem to be satisfactory yet, because, as NATO representatives claim, the Ukrainian side has been very slowly in implementing the proposed measures, if at all. 

Indeed, the whole process of modernizing Ukraine's armed forces is making only slow progress. Although the radical decision to professionalize the armed forces was made, its implementation has been postponed until 2015. The currently planned force reductions are to downsize troop strength from 310,000 to 295,000 in 2005 and to 270,000 in 2010. In the pre-election campaign, the presidential bloc "For One Ukraine," along with the socialists, called for reductions down to 250,000; the Yushchenko bloc called for 100,000 troops. 

The reform and modernization of Ukraine's armed forces, however, is stumbling because of immense financial shortages. In Ukraine, the share of the gross domestic product designated for defense expenditures is very low-between 1.3% and 1.5% GDP. Without a meaningful increase in defense spending, the entire military modernization and reform process is doomed to be a humiliating failure, one that will undermine Ukraine's credibility. 

Building up Ukraine's credibility will be of tremendous importance to its integration both with NATO and the EU. One way to contribute to it could be to implement stringent, real, and reliable control of arms and other military equipment exports. NUAP's proposal to adopt more legal regulations in this area calls for speedy implementation. But continuing to blacklist Ukraine as a country where dirty money is laundered on a huge scale, and sanctioning Ukraine for this, will not restore confidence. Other points of concern include wooing the CIS and the decision to join (together with Belarus and Kazakhstan) the new Russia-dominated economic integration structure. There are good reasons to believe that President Kuchma made this decision to the complete surprise of all Ukraine's top politicians, both in government and in parliament, but this makes it even more important to understand the requirement that  "Ukrainian foreign policy should serve exclusively its national interests and strategic priorities, rather than personal interests, even if the person is the President himself." 

2004-A Key Year

The year 2004 will be a key one for Ukraine's future. On one hand, it will be a year of further NATO enlargement; on the other hand, it will be a year during which the European Union will move to Ukraine's 800-km-long border. It will also be an election year for several important European countries, and in Ukraine it will be the beginning of a post-Kuchma period.  It will be of paramount importance to have a political configuration that will be able to carry out a clear, unambiguous, consistent, and resolute policy-targeting both the NATO and the EU integration processes-and that ensures stability and continuing reform of the state and the economy. All political actions to these ends deserve the support of Poland and Ukraine's other friends and partners. 

Meanwhile, NATO has two options. One is to carry on with current policy, i.e., to support increasingly close cooperation with Ukraine and to leave the issue of membership in abeyance. The other is to clearly declare that not only may Ukraine join the Alliance, but also that the Alliance explicitly wants it to, treating Ukraine as a tremendously important element in the construction of a stronger security system. 

Even though we understand how long it will take for Ukraine to achieve NATO membership, Poland should solicit this solution. Only in that way will the Polish-Ukrainian strategic partnership become even more pronounced and rich in content. 


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