Ukraine to start NATO talks: Russia angry, the West uncertain
Ukraine will start talks on joining NATO, President Petro Poroshenko announced on Monday, a move likely to strain already tense relations between the West and Ukraine’s neighbour Russia.
When Ukraine’s parliament voted to enshrine in law the country’s priority of acceding to NATO membership last month, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded by saying that the organisation’s spread eastwards “threatens our security and the balance of forces in the Eurasian region. Naturally, the Russian side will take all measures needed to rebalance the situation and ensure our own security”.
“Ukraine joining NATO would, undoubtedly, be upsetting for Russia, which has always considered Ukraine to be its nearly identical, yet somehow lesser Slavic brother, standing loyally at its side,” said Raisa Ostapenko, researcher of Eastern European history and politics at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
The increased tensions between Russia and the West – following Moscow’s 2014 annexation ofCrimea and the rise of Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine – have recently reached a new zenith with lurid allegations of Kremlin attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
Kiev’s announcement this week raises further questions about how the West responds to a newly aggressive Russia and how it can defend its interests.
Poroshenko underscored that his announcement “does not mean we will soon be applying for membership”. And while NATO leaders have agreed since 2008 that Ukraine would one day become a member, they are unlikely to rapidly usher Kiev into the club.
“There’s no appetite in NATO for immediate enlargement,” said Edward Lucas, author of “The New Cold War” and senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, DC. “I don’t think there’s any appetite to give Ukraine an Article 5 security guarantee right now”, he added, referring to the NATO clause stating that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
However, Poroshenko’s office has emphasised that Ukraine is committed to conducting reforms in order to “have a clear schedule of what must be done by 2020 to meet the NATO membership criteria” regarding defence, anti-corruption measures, good governance and law enforcement.
“Now, with such widespread international support for Ukrainian membership and 69 percent of Ukrainians supporting the move, the country is more motivated than ever before to meet its political, economic and military targets,” said Ostapenko. “Ukraine has a lot to lose in not complying – its pride and legitimacy as a Western partner are at stake.”
With regard to Moscow’s chagrin at Kiev’s NATO membership talks, Lucas was firm: “Russia doesn’t have the right to decide what other countries do for their security arrangements.”