Ukrainian president tries to make Ukraine NATO member on the sly

Viktor Yushchenko is an legitimate president in the eyes of the West even though a significant part of Ukrainian voters disagreed to the election's results

Promises made during an election campaign always have a share of populism in them. As a rule, political parties exaggerate their potential to change the country for the public good. Presidential candidates sometimes promise to achieve goals that are simply unachievable. The political elite has to take into account the importance of a foreign factor in times of election in countries where the geopolitical interests collide.

There was an issue both competitors in Ukraine's latest presidential race were quite reluctant to touch upon. The issue relates to NATO. Viktor Yanukovich had nothing about relations between Ukraine and NATO on his original campaign program. The issue was included into the program only after his team had realized that no walkaway was lying ahead. In fact, Mr. Yanukovich team put the issue on the list in an attempt to make pro-Russian voters more active. However, Mr. Yanukovich never took advantage of raising the issue during a two-round televised debate with Mr. Yushchenko. Mr. Yanukovish never made his opponent give a straight unequivocal point of view on the subject. He apparently did not want to make the U.S. nervous, he wanted to keep Washington from giving more support to his opponent.

Viktor Yushchenko had his own reasons for skipping the subject. His team decided that Mr. Yushchenko should keep off the integration issues during the debate because the team knew the attitude that prevailed in the Ukrainian public at the time. Therefore, the accusations claiming Mr. Yushchenko was an “American son-in-law” fell through and ended up looking like allegations.

The foreign (Western) factor proved to be a crucial one during the “orange” revolution. Mr. Yushchenko is an legitimate president in the eyes of the West even though a significant part of Ukrainian voters disagreed to the election's results. Russia eventually had to acquiesce in the situation too. It did not take long for the “people's president” to embark on the new project. Speaking at the Brussels NATO summit in February, Mr. Yushchenko said that “the integration of Ukraine into the EU and NATO is our objective.”

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed caution while discussing Ukraine's membership issues. He declined to comment on any timetable relating to accession of Ukraine to the Alliance. He called on Ukraine to expand cooperation, though. The new Ukrainian authorities got the message. Cooperation between Kiev and NATO is not only expanding, it is becoming more intense.

In particular, computer-simulated military exercises Cooperative Poseidon 2005 were held in Sebastpol from May 24th to June 2nd. The exercises were part of the NATO program Partnership for Peace. They aimed to increase the interaction levels between the navies of the NATO member states and NATO's partners, RIA Novosti reports.

On May 27th, 2005, Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko signed a decree “On access of foreign countries' armed forces to Ukraine in 2005 for the participation in multinational military exercises,” reports citing UNIAN. The decree stipulates access granted to foreign armed forces to Ukraine in 2005 to take part in a number of military exercises.

Pursuant to president's decree, the following foreign military personnel and equipment will arrive in Ukraine:

- Up to 600 servicemen plus authorized weapons and equipment from the NATO member states and other countries will take part in the military exercises Cooperative Best Effort to be held from June 19th to June 30th this year.
- Up to 500 servicemen plus authorized weapons and equipment from the U.S. and other countries will take part in the military exercises Peace Shield 2005 to be held from July 11th to August 13th this year.

- Up to 1,500 servicemen plus authorized weapons and equipment from Italy will take part in the military exercises Shirokyi Lan 2005 to be held in September to October this year.

- Up to 500 servicemen including authorized weapons and equipment from NATO member states and the Organization for the Ban on Chemical Weapons will participate in the military exercises Assistex 2 to be held from October 10th to October 13th.

The decree was made into law by Ukrainian Parliament on June 2nd. 246 out of 419 registered deputies voted in favor of the bill, according to UNIAN.

There were a number of reasons behind the inconsistent foreign policy of “the old regime.” One needs to do what people in Washington expect him to do i.e. head for NATO and be at loggerheads with Moscow if one wants the West to take him as a legitimate ruler of an independent Ukraine. But the economic situation and a considerable part of the Ukrainian population were urging Mr. Kuchma to pursue a different policy.

At one point the West became confident that Mr. Kuchma went way off the right course and got himself into international isolation similar to that of Belarusian President Lukashenko.

Mr. Kuchma made his last desperate attempt to repair the relations with the West a year ago. In June 2004, on the eve of the NATO summit in Istanbul, he approved a new version of the national military doctrine which held the implementation of a policy aimed at North Atlantic integration with Ukraine joining NATO being the ultimate goal that should be viewed as one of the conditions for national security. But his gesture fell flat. Mr. Kuchma eventually crossed off a part of his decree saying about preparations taken by Ukraine to ensure its full-fledged membership in the EU and NATO. The final version of the document on North Atlantic integration with accession to NATO being a priority of the Ukrainian domestic and foreign policy had no direct reference to Ukraine's plans to join NATO, BBC reported at the time. Looks like it was the final straw in Mr. Kuchma's case.

Putting Ukraine back on the right track (the right one according to the West) is one of the missions Mr. Yushchenko has to accomplish. Brussels sent him a few clear-cut and encouraging signals as the “orange” revolution was gaining pace in Kiev. NATO said that it might consider stepping up talks for much more closer cooperation between the Alliance and Ukraine if the opposition presidential candidate Victor Yushchenko won the election run-off. Similar statements were made earlier by some diplomats in NATO, Reuters reported on December 17th, 2004.

Mr. Yushchenko is undoubtedly trying to work hard on trust the West put in him. As regards the promises made to the people during the election campaign, things are not running so smoothly. But cooperation between Ukraine and NATO is going at full swing. The implementation of programs put on hold in the past has resumed. Prior to the Brussels NATO summit, the organization unveiled a 12-year program to finance a large-scale weapons annihilation project in Ukraine. However, the economy of Ukraine and its people are still an obstacle on the road leading to Ukraine's full-fledged membership in NATO. The new authorities have a great deal of work to do for that matter.   

Aleksei Kovalev

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Author`s name Olga Savka