Ukraine wasn’t included in the North Atlantic Alliance Membership Action Plan at NATO Summit in Bucharest. Nevertheless, the summit declaration encompasses a resolution according to which Ukraine as well as Georgia will become NATO members. The relations with Russia and an insufficient citizens’ support of this step are one of Ukraine’s key issues complicating the process of NATO integration. The mentioned aspects are the subject matter of our interview with the Ukrainian political scientist and the Director of Ukrainian Democratic Initiatives Foundation Ilko Kucheriv. Democratic Initiatives Foundation develops its activities in terms of the support of Ukrainian integration into North Atlantic structures. It also struggles for the increase of public support of NATO membership.
How do the Ukrainians perceive the results of the NATO Summit in Bucharest?
According to President Viktor Youshchenko Summit results were welcomed enthusiastically – beyond all our expectations. For the first time Ukraine was given a pledge that it would become NATO member. Perhaps it was the first time in Ukrainian history that its elites acted like a subject of political life in world arena and it was the first time that they presented clear demands and declared its objectives. There had been nothing like that before. In the past, always when Ukraine was addressed in connection with some demands, it acceded. When there was a demand to yield up nuclear weapons, Ukraine surrendered them. The same held true as for the World Bank’s requests. This was in fact the first time that Ukraine spoke clearly of its interests. All political forces, no matter if they supported or opposed NATO entry, assessed it positively. They could see that Ukrainian leaders have character.
Why there is such a high number of NATO opponents in Ukrainian society? According to the latest polls conducted by your foundation their number increased from 52.8 per cent in December 2007 to 59.6 per cent in March 2008 even despite the current Cabinet’s support of NATO entry. Simultaneously, the amount of those who support NATO membership sank from the original 31.8 per cent by as much as ten per cent in the very same period of time
We may speak of three causes. First and foremost it is the heritage of Soviet propaganda and the Cold War era. NATO has a bad name in Ukraine by which it is perceived an aggressive military bloc. The next argument of NATO opponents is that the membership will be very costly for Ukraine. Finally, they say that NATO entry is supposed to worsen our relations with Russia. Russian factor plays central role because Russia affects Ukraine intensively also in the sphere of information dissemination by means of the media. I’d like to emphasise that as for Russian future, the best option is to uphold Ukrainian entry into NATO as well as the EU because such a support will create European and democratic prospects for Russia itself. Although contemporary Russian leaders disapprove of it, it’ll be definitely a step in favour of Russian citizens.
However, the Russians fear that if Ukraine becomes a NATO member, Russia will be isolated.
That’s a tricky question. In my opinion, in the case of Ukrainian NATO entry Russia will restrict significantly its imperial ambitions which have been growing dangerously. I’d also like to refer to the fact that the Membership Action Plan (MAP) doesn’t mean immediately the entry into NATO. It stands for voluntary commitments of a country towards NATO and EU partner countries on the basis of which Ukraine commits itself to conduct internal reforms. We may discuss the contents of MAP but the fulfilment of commitments and the realisation of European interests will strengthen the security in our region to a large extent.
What is the likelihood of Ukraine acquiring MAP in December like in your opinion?
There is a declaration of seventeen states including Slovakia which upheld the inclusion of Ukraine in the Membership Action Plan. Obviously, the stance of Germany and France is a problem. Our task, i.e. the task of political analysts, is to identify partner states’ objections. Nowadays, we’d like to draw up a list of Germany’s objections against Ukraine so that not only Ukrainian state representatives but also ordinary people understand the essence of these objections. Thus they will be able to tackle them. The severest objection pertains primarily to conflicts between the President and the Prime Minister. This really poses a big problem for Ukraine. The second worst objection is connected with the absence of public support of NATO entry.
Do you think that Ukraine will succeed in increasing the number of Alliance membership adherents?
It’s all up to us. I’d like to underscore the example of Slovakia, which is an inspiration to us.
Anyway, the problem is the image of the main supporter of Ukrainian NATO membership, namely the US. It is the foreign policy which is perceived very negatively in Ukraine since NATO is associated predominantly with the US. Is it conceivable to detach these two phenomena?
The fact remains that NATO is linked in the public’s awareness especially with the US, however, this isn’t thus much crucial. Important is that all US presidential candidates uphold Ukrainian NATO entry. The most momentous thing for Ukraine is the building of statehood. Ukraine is among those states which have gained independence only recently. It’s important for us to learn to live in a medium-size country which isn’t among world powers, not even in the second third succession. This holds true also in the case of its economic potential. We haven’t realised it yet. Furthermore, not only NATO membership but also European integration stands for a problem. We could have seen it also in Slovakia. It’s a synonym in fact, although both blocs are formally separated. The inclusion in MAP as well as NATO membership will be decided on by the same people who will decide on Ukrainian EU entry. Therefore we’re obliged to follow carefully their arguments and convince politicians and experts that this is the right way. Moreover, Ukraine has to undergo internal reforms in order to meet difficult European standards.
Apart from the US, which countries do you consider the main Ukrainian allies as for NATO entry?
Particularly NATO and EU member states are the most important allies, i.e. Slovakia, Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Besides these states it is also the United Kingdom. Among traditional allies are Poland and Canada, which recognised Ukraine as an independent state as first ones.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that Ukrainian entry would impinge upon the relations with Russia at present…
Ukraine has to forge good links with all states. Obviously, friendly relations with Russia are of the greatest importance. It’s necessary to find such a position that would enable Ukraine to explain Russia that NATO entry is in its interest and that this effort isn’t aimed against Russia. At the same time Russia cannot have the possibility of the development of its imperial sentiments. In Ukraine, we’ve been monitoring the growth of these Russia imperialistic moods particularly with regard to our state. However, Russian empire cannot be restored in full extent without Ukraine. Any concessions made to imperialistic moods are equal to concessions made to drug addicts. This is perceived as the confirmation of the reinforcement of imperialistic positions and it won’t bear fruit.
Is it possible to explain the decrease of the support of NATO membership by means of the dread of Russian imperialistic retaliation, for instance, in the form of cutting off gas supplies or dramatic stepping up of its price?
Of course, but in the first place the cause consists in active information campaign and Russian influence on Ukrainian information sphere. It’s a matter of direct and indirect influence. Russia has a very strong influence on Ukrainian media, television, internet and newspapers. Russian business in Ukraine is politically involved as well. Russia spends considerable financial means on its information influence in Ukraine as well as foreign countries. This campaign is aimed against Ukrainian NATO membership and the means have been flowing also into most influential world daily press.
To what degree is Ukraine capable of facing this kind of Russian pressure or is it able to balance at least? Recently, an appeal of nationally orientated Ukrainian intelligentsia appeared asking the prohibition of the signal of Russian television channels in Ukrainian territory. However, this doesn’t have much in common with democracy.
This problem is linked also with the question of Ukrainian security including information security. It has become much more exposed. It calls for a very careful approach. Some hotheads even speak of information war. Nonetheless, Ukraine has to deliberate more thoroughly and speak of its national interests. If we identify Ukrainian interests comprehensibly, it will bear more than ill-conceived attacks.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin was substituted by Dmitriy Medvedev on the presidential post. Will it mean a shift in Russian policy on Ukraine?
It would be great if Russia developed as a democratic country. Unfortunately, its situation is different. Authoritative tendencies have been growing, the elections lacked fair character and attacks on democratic institutions are under way. That’s why we cannot expect positive changes for now. Instead of them, there is a “KGB-isation” of the entire Russia under way – former KGB officials are installed in key posts. Thus we may observe negative tendencies at present. In spite of that, I have remained an optimist and a Russophil. I’ve got many friends in Russia. Therefore I’m hoping that positive future awaits this country.
Nowadays, Russia is dominated by the opinion that unipolar world arrangement is in conflict with its interest and the effort to create a counterbalance to this arrangement has been appearing. This is dangerous for Ukraine because it lies on the boundaries of the spheres of influence. Thus, for example, the Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov said that Sevastopol is a Russian town. From this point of view, Ukraine isn’t protected against aggression. Notwithstanding the declaration of neutral position, it has no guarantees.
Does the Ukrainian society consider the existence of good relations with Russia momentous?
They are extraordinarily important. We’ve got used to the fact that we’re brother nations. There are numerous family relationships among the people. This plays an important role in the population’s consciousness.
The Party of Regions toughened its rhetoric against Ukrainian NATO membership after it became a part of opposition. How does this main opposition force perceive Ukrainian alternative way from the viewpoint of its security strategy?
The neutral status of Ukraine is the position of the Party of Regions. The discussions are similar to that ones which were held in Slovakia, whereas the experts’ opinion is that neutral status is financially demanding and it doesn’t provide normal security guarantees. Examining Slovak experiences, we understand much better the essence of these issues.
Do you think that if the Party of regions created a coalition with the bloc Our Ukraine, its stance on the question of NATO membership would be more favourable?
I think so because all fundamental decisions in terms of Ukrainian foreign policy were made by the Party of Regions. When being the PM, the leader of this party Viktor Yanukovych signed documents determining the direction of Ukrainian development including NATO and EU entry. Besides this many young entrepreneurs are members of the Party of Regions. These understand that the scope of their interest is in the West and NATO and EU membership are advantageous for their business.
What is Ukrainian vision of NATO like? In the Ukrainian society, is there a discussion on how NATO should look like and how it should change?
No, I think it isn’t. Ukraine shouldn’t present its stance on this question itself. The time hasn’t come yet. Meanwhile, the discussion pertains to other issues: if Ukraine meets membership criteria, to what extent Ukrainian armed forces have been transforming in accordance with NATO standards. Ukraine has taken part in all NATO operations but it isn’t contemplating the need of such an alliance in the future.
In what way can Ukraine be an asset to NATO?
As I have already mentioned, Ukrainian soldiers, who are of excellent repute among member states, participate in NATO missions. They have a reputation of soldiers with great stamina capable of coping with dangerous situations. Anyway, Ukrainian contribution in the field of the security of the whole East European region is crucial. Ukraine serves as an example of success from the point of view of democracy establishment. The US organisation Freedom House accepted it as a democratic country. Besides the Baltic states it is the only country with consolidated democracy in the are of the former USSR. The market economy has been developing actively. Ukraine has no conflicts with neighbour countries and pursues conflict solution in the region. It strives to be a trustworthy transporter of energy materials. It is most important because the questions of energy security will represent one of the key problems in the 21st century. The grasp of the importance of this issue is that contribution of ours which can improve European energy security.
In 2003, Ukraine sent its troop to Iraq. That time, the whole then coalition, i.e. the former President Leonid Kuchma’s camp including Party of Regions’ deputies, voted in favour of it. After the Orange Revolution when the democratisation process began, the winning of people’s favour of NATO membership became much more difficult. One could assume that the Orange Revolution deepen the gap between Ukraine and NATO instead of erasing it. What’s your opinion?
I cannot agree with you. We don’t appreciate the results of the Orange Revolution enough. The possibility of influencing the processes within our country is inside us, in the heart of every Ukrainian. One has yet to bear in mind that it is the success of the Orange Revolution including the freedom of speech which is used by NATO opposing forces. That’s the reason why within the society they have gained such a position which they couldn’t count on during Kuchma’s era. Nevertheless, it’s a challenge for the current authority, which has to improve the communication with the citizens.
Will Ukraine become NATO member according to you? If so, when?
Ukraine is sure to become NATO member. It’s hard to say when. However, I believe that yet during my lifetime.