Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 18.02.2018
Russia has been invading Europe in Crimea and Donbas for four years. Once put aside as being provocative to Russia, the path to NATO membership for Ukraine is back under discussion. Putin attacked Ukraine – unprovoked – in 2014, undertook a so-called ‘annexation’ of Crimea, and commenced trench warfare in Donbas that has been raging ever since. There is little fear of provoking Russia to a war that Putin has already started.
In 2008 at Bucharest, Ukraine was rejected for the Membership Action Plan for NATO, but promised eventual membership. The caution of a decade ago has been replaced by urgency to find some way to get Ukraine into NATO. For its part, Ukraine is active in working towards NATO standards in training, military technology, and bureaucratic procedures. This is vital preliminary work. Public opinion surveys show that the Ukrainian people are more heavily in favour of NATO membership than the people of many existing member countries. The Verkhovna Rada, the parliament of Ukraine, voted in 2017 to declare that NATO membership is a strategic foreign policy objective for Ukraine.
What have existing NATO member countries been doing? They tried to hold a NATO-Ukraine defence ministers meeting in Brussels, but Hungary vetoed it. The Orbán government, in particular Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó, are using the nominal excuse of Ukraine’s new education law to block all Ukraine-NATO and Ukraine-EU contact. Ukraine’s education law is a plan to teach Ukrainian students in Ukrainian schools in Ukrainian, the state language. Orbán and Szijjártó object to that, and are using it as an excuse to do Moscow’s bidding and wreak havoc within NATO and the EU.
NATO defence ministers found a way to meet and talk about and with Ukraine, regardless of Hungary. They did it at the Munich Security Conference, which has been running from February 16 to 18. Reuters reported an optimistic mood among defence leaders about Ukraine becoming a NATO member at the Munich meeting. United States Senator Lindsay Graham said that relations with Moscow may be “beyond salvageable” anyway. It will be recalled that Senator Graham, along with Senators John McCain and Amy Klobuchar, visited Ukrainian soldiers in Shyrokyne, Donbas region, on 2 January 2017. The three US senators were within artillery range of the Russians invading Europe.
Senator Graham and the other defence leaders at the Munich Security Conference were keen to stress that choosing alliances is the right of any sovereign country, and that Ukraine is free to seek NATO membership. What Russia thinks about it has no bearing. Senator Graham said: “To our friends in Georgia and Ukraine, be patient. Hopefully the rest of us will get a backbone and push back against aggression that I feel is unwarranted.” (Parts of Georgia have been invaded and occupied by Russia since 1993, in the case of Abkhazia, and 2008, in the case of Tskhinvali Region.)
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined NATO, and Putin didn’t start a war over it. Putin has already started a war against Ukraine, so it is too late for him to start a war over Ukraine joining NATO. Ukraine deserves to be in NATO. Existing NATO countries need Ukraine to join them, because Ukraine will contribute substantially to the collective security that the broader North Atlantic region urgently needs to confront and defeat Russian aggression.