Support for NATO membership is at an all-time high of 44% – the highest it has ever been was in the late 1990s (before the emergence of the anti-NATO and anti-American Party of Regions) when it was a third in favour. What polls also show is a decline of the number of Ukrainians who are against NATO membership from a very high figure under President Viktor Yanukovych to figures even lower than in the late 1990s when a third opposed.
The reasons for this are obvious. Ukrainian territories are either occupied (Crimea) or under attack (Donbas) by a hostile neighbor and Ukrainians do not feel adequately defended by their security forces. Collective security will always be able to provide greater security – especially in a country such as Ukraine where under each Minister of Defence there has been massive corruption and destruction of military preparedness.
Neutrality or non-bloc status – the position of Yanukovych and Petro Poroshenko – would be a lot more expensive for Ukraine than joining NATO. As Serhiy Taran says, any referendum on NATO should outline the alternatives of neutrality and what it would cost in comparison to joining NATO. Neutral countries such as Switzerland and Sweden spend a lot more of their GDP on defence than NATO members. Where is Poroshenko going to find high levels of budgetary resources for the military if he supports Ukraine’s neutrality?
Poroshenko and Tymoshenko have diametrically opposite views on NATO. While Poroshenko says there will be no referendum on NATO membership if he is president then Tymoshenko calls for a referendum on NATO membership. As the second Director of NATO’s Information and Documentation Centre in Ukraine in the late 1990s I have to strongly agree with Tymoshenko.
Poroshenko’s claim is spurious that Ukraine would not be invited into NATO because it has an area under occupation. NATO re-affirmed its open door policy towards enlargement at its 2010 Lisbon summit. Three years earlier in Bucharest, the NATO summit issued a resolution that stated: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations.”
It continued: “MAP is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership. Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP. Therefore we will now begin a period of intensive engagement with both at a high political level to address the questions still outstanding pertaining to their MAP applications”.
Poroshenko’s support for non-bloc status goes a long way to satisfying Russia’s demands for Ukraine’s Finlandisation – a permanent buffer between East and West in a geopolitical no man’s land. Poroshenko’s position on NATO also conforms with his pro-Russian position in two other areas.
Firstly, his support for the April 2010 “Kharkiv Accords” that unconstitutionally and illegally extended the Black Sea Fleet base to the middle of the century making Sevastopol a de facto permanent Russian base. The irony of his support for the “Kharkiv Accords” is that the so-called “gas discount” was calculated using the 2009 gas contract pricing formula.
Secondly, Poroshenko has called for dropping four-country (EU-US-Ukraine-Russia) talks and replacing them with direct Russian-Ukrainian negotiations. Why does Poroshenko not value the support given to Ukraine by Washington and Brussels?
Poroshenko’s foreign policy represents a counter-revolution against the positions adopted by Ukraine’s first three presidents and fully conforms to the policies that were supported by Yanukovych. This is evident in three areas:
- Ukraine’s first three presidents supported the Black Sea Fleet base based on the 1997 20-year “temporary agreement” clause in the constitution. Yanukovych and Poroshenko support the “Kharkiv Accords” that extends the base until the middle of the century making it de facto permanent.
- Ukraine’s first three presidents supported NATO membership while Yanukovych and Poroshenko do not.
- Ukraine’s first three presidents always believed Ukraine, as a smaller and less militarily and economically powerful country to Russia, needed the support of the West behind its shoulders when negotiating with Russia. This was why in the 1990s President Leonid Kuchma and National Security and Defence Council Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin supported NATO enlargement, joined Partnership for Peace and established very close ties with the US (Ukraine in the late 1990s was the 3rd largest recipient of US aid).
Poroshenko’s foreign policy reflects the views of a Ukrainian businessman who favours Ukraine’s Finlandisation because this will assist his business interests in Russia. In 2006 President Viktor Yushchenko elevated his hostility to Tymoshenko over Ukraine’s national security and today Poroshenko is prioritising his business interests over that of Ukraine’s security interests.