Ukraine-NATO relations are pivotal for European and global security. The Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine reflect the dreams of its society in helping to defend peaceful and prosperous development, in Europe and beyond. At the same time, the military aggression, staged by Russia on Ukraine since 2014, 24 February this year transformed into a full-scale war with severe consequences on Ukraine’s economy, climate and infrastructure.
Against this backdrop, the question of a potential NATO membership of Ukraine matters for the deterrence of Russian imperialism. Retrospectively, the cooperation between Kyiv and the alliance started back in 1994 with the “Partnership for Peace” programme, which was aimed to establish a new framework for NATO cooperation with former Communist states of Eastern Europe (1, P. 45).
From the 1990s, Ukraine has conducted joint military exercises with NATO. In 2002, the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine decided “to develop such a strategy, the ultimate goal of which will be Ukraine’s accession to the security system in Europe, which is now based on NATO.”
Further to this, one must recall that at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008, at which the Membership Action Plan would have been granted to Ukraine and Georgia, Russia pressed the main actors (France and Germany) not to do so.
And although the public support for NATO accession among Ukrainians – plummeted (from 47.8. percent to 40.1 percent), following the 2014 ‘Revolution of Dignity’, the Ukrainian parliament (the ‘Verkhovna Rada’) went ahead and implemented the constitutional amendments regarding “implementation of the state’s strategic course towards Ukraine’s full membership in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization” in 2019.
However, Ukrainian support for the idea of joining NATO has grown to 62 percent (then the highest since 2014) in mid-February 2022 due to threat of Russian military escalation on the borders of Ukraine.
Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, NATO is facing one of its greatest challenges.
NATO’s response to the “new security environment” will be elaborated in a strategic concept, which is to be approved at the Madrid summit in late June 2022.
In its current strategic concept, dating back to 2010, Russia is mentioned as a partner in the fight against global terrorism. Back then, NATO’s military presence in Afghanistan was at its peak [3, P. 212]. Yet, the systematic violation of international law by the Kremlin, from its 2014 annexation of Crimea and military invasion of Eastern Ukraine, became a watershed for the alliance.
Think-tank Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism” prepared the recommendations for NATO leaders . According to them, the defence of democracy can not be implemented merely through communiques but also through concrete political and military action. From NATO, one would expect that Russia’s extension of its ‘sphere of influence’ through brute force against sovereign countries can never be accepted.
Further to this, the security situation in the Black Sea region (with NATO member-states Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey) is worsening due to Russian voluntarist actions towards the freedom of navigation. Additionally, Russia has deployed nuclear weapons in the occupied Crimea and is blocking Ukrainian ports with further implications for global food security. The absence of a particular NATO regional strategy can not be an option when this region is also a responsibility of the alliance.
Since June 2020, Ukraine has enjoyed status as one of NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partners . Through that status, Ukraine is entitled to participate in numerous joint programs, ranging from military education and science to strategic communications to the rehabilitation of Ukrainian soldiers abroad.
The process of concrete integration into the alliance consists of the implementation of a number of NATO standards as well as the civil control of security and defence matters. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have already showcased its capabilities on the battlefield. Therefore, the focus should not be not on the number of standards adhered to, but rather on the practical skills, with which our armed forces are defending Ukraine against the Russian occupiers.
On top of this, Russia’s brutality in Ukraine has also compelled other countries to rethink their relationships with the alliance.
The jointly submitted NATO applications of Sweden and Finland, two non-military aligned Nordic countries with strong welfare economies, must be considered the biggest shift.
Although militarily non-aligned until now, these states have taken significant steps towards NATO membership in the course of the past decades, including through substantial troop contributions of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan as from 2001.
By effectively and efficiently impeding the Kremlin’s imperial ambitions – and thereby defending Europe’s democracy and freedom – Ukraine should be an integral part of the NATO of tomorrow. Maybe not yet as a member of the alliance, but at least as a highly valued and increasingly integrated partner.
- Eichler J. (2022) NATO’s Expansion After the Cold War: Geopolitics and Impacts for International Security. Springer. 173 p.
- Eight points from the Ukrainian Expert Community on the NATO Strategic Concept 2030. URL: http://prismua.org/en/eight_point_nato/
- NATO and Transatlantic Relations in the 21st (2021) [Ed. by M. Testoni]. Routledge. 230 p.
- Relations with Ukraine. NATO. URL: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_37750.htm
Yehor Brailian PhD (History), special correspondent of international cooperation desk, inform agency ArmyInform, Ukraine, Kyiv