Timeline for Ukraine to get a NATO Membership Action Plan remains unclear

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba give a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, April 13, 2021. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS

New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

The last week brought final strokes to the picture of Ukraine’s chances to join NATO in a near future.

Before the summit of the North Atlantic Council, which took place in Brussels on 14 June 2021, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy openly addressed the U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO with requests to provide Ukraine with a Membership Action Plan which is a necessary step for a country to become a NATO member. These pleas have been seconded by many Ukrainian Diaspora organizations and individuals in the West which wrote open addresses and letters to their governments. However, the response from NATO and its member countries was quite muted before the summit.

The summit’s Communiqué “[reiterated] the decision made at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance with the Membership Action Plan (MAP) as an integral part of the process; [and reaffirmed] all elements of that decision, as well as subsequent decisions, including that each partner will be judged on its own merits”.

The Communiqué did not provide any timeline for a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine and mentioned “wide-ranging, sustainable, and irreversible reforms, including combating corruption, promoting an inclusive political process, and decentralization reform, based on democratic values, respect for human rights, minorities, and the rule of law” as well as “further reforms in the security sector” as crucial factors in “laying the groundwork for a prosperous and peaceful Ukraine”.

Ukraine’s leaders were disappointed. Even before the NATO summit, in April 2021, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that Ukraine is committed to reforming its army and defense sector, “but reforms alone will not stop Russia”. He referred to the buildup of tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border at the time. NATO is the only way to end the war in the Donbas while Ukraine’s MAP will be a real signal for Russia, Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum which took place in Turkey on June 18-20, said that, since 2008, the alliance has not made “a single move” to implement its decision that Ukraine will become a NATO member. He added: “When we speak about reforms, you know, it can be an endless story. So my question to NATO is, how many reforms exactly do you want? Give us a clear list. Because the more reforms we do, the more expectations with you”. He also indicated that it would be in line with NATO’s declarations if the alliance provided an MAP to Ukraine in 2022.

At the time of Russia’s military buildup and exercises, which were happening close to the Ukrainian border in April, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that Ukraine’s NATO bid “wouldn’t only lead to a massive escalation of the situation in the southeast but could also entail irreversible consequences for the Ukrainian statehood.”

Reluctance on the part of some NATO members, such as Germany and France, which is based on their unwillingness to endanger their relationships with Russia, has long been named as a major reason for Ukraine’s low chances to join NATO in a near future.

Canada, arguably the biggest ally of Ukraine on the global stage, has not provided any timeline for Ukraine’s getting an MAP either.

On June 21, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in a letter to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC): “Canada’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity remains unwavering and our position on Russia is unequivocal. […] Canada has also consistently been a strong advocate for Ukraine within NATO and has long supported NATO’s 2008 commitment that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance. More recently, we also played a significant role in helping Ukraine secure Enhanced Opportunity Partner status”.

Alexandra Chyczij, National President of the UCC, stated that “Through Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine, Operation UNIFIER, the Defence Reform Advisory Board, governance, judicial and economic reform programs, Canada is key partner in ensuring a strong, resilient and successful Ukrainian state. We are confident that Ukraine’s authorities will substantially intensify the implementation of these essential reforms, working with Canada and other international partners”.

During his ethnocultural press conference on June 23, Erin O’Toole, Leader of Canada’s Conservatives and the Official Opposition, in his response to NP-UN’s question whether Canada should support Ukraine’s desire to get an MAP in 2022, said that Ukraine’s path to NATO membership should start with work on “ending the conflict in the Donbas and reiterating our position on Crimea”. He added: “The Russian aggression that’s taking place needs to be addressed in the immediate term. Canada needs to be on the world stage, not one that flip flops in their position on engagement with Russia, for example, it needs to be consistent. We have to work with the Americans on this situation in the Donbas and a route to not only more engagement within the confines of NATO, but the engagement with Europe”.