Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 12.01.2019
NATO members are talking about accelerating Ukraine’s membership. This is the sentiment picked up by the Minister of Defence of Ukraine, Stepan Poltorak, after meetings in Brussels with NATO representatives.
Fighting alone, Ukraine has held the line against Russian invasion of Europe in Crimea and Donbas while at the same time reforming its military to NATO standards. Not joining Ukraine in the defence of Europe has shamed some NATO representatives; Ukraine’s rapid pace of reform despite waging a war for survival has impressed most of them.
The Ukrainian Defence Minister, a former General of the Army of Ukraine, gave an interview with Uryadovy Courier, a national daily newspaper published by the executive branch of the Ukrainian government. On January 10, Stepan Poltorak said: “For more than four years, I have been observing the mood at NATO headquarters with regard to Ukraine. At first, we were not taken too seriously. Subsequently, we did not understand how accession to the bloc could be achieved. But during the last meeting in Brussels everyone talked about the need for our accelerated accession to NATO. We receive help from them in all directions. This was especially noticeable recently - after an act of open aggression by Russia.” Here, Stepan Poltorak was referring to the Russian attack on the Ukrainian Navy in the Kerch Strait on 25 November 2018.
Stepan Poltorak points to his growing rapport with the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson. The two men have met five times over the past half year. Gavin Williamson committed extra British military support for Ukraine, particularly for the Ukrainian Navy. This is in light of growing Russian aggression against Ukraine in the Sea of Azov, the Kerch Strait, and the Black Sea.
Ukraine is on a fast-track to meet the military and technical requirements to joining NATO. The bureaucracy of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence needs to be reformed to eliminate the last vestiges of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian military needs to complete its reorganization to match the militaries of NATO members. Intensive training to NATO standards has been underway for years at Ukraine’s military base in Yavoriv, Lviv region; NATO members Lithuania, Poland, Canada, and the United States supply trainers and Ukraine supplies tens of thousands of soldiers – many of whom are veterans of combat against the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in Donbas. Augmented by some purchasing from NATO members, Ukraine is producing domestically many weapons that take NATO-standard ammunition.
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has set a deadline for when the Armed Forces of Ukraine will operate according to NATO standards. Speaking in Rivne region of Ukraine on January 11, President Poroshenko said that in 2020 the Ukrainian military will be fully inter-operable with the militaries of NATO members.
The days of a rusted-out ex-Soviet military are over. A NATO-standard military is growing like gangbusters in Ukraine. For Ukrainians, this is not some abstract exercise in collective security for like-minded nations in the broader North Atlantic region – although it is that. For them, it is about national survival. Ukraine must stop Russian aggression to preserve its independence as a state and it must liberate Crimea and Donbas from Russian occupation to preserve its territorial integrity. Admitting Ukraine to NATO quickly is the best way to stop Russian aggression and the best way to restore peace to war-torn Europe.