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NATO-Ukraine relations are often being wrongly reduced to the issue of an existent or non-existent membership perspective

Remarks by the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the North Atlantic Council Mr. Stefan Füle at Europe-Ukraine Forum 2007 in Wroclaw, 23 February 2007.

The NATO - Ukraine relations tend to raise emotions. In Ukraine they became topic of major political disputes, the card that was played, more negatively than positively in the last parliamentary election. Both, in Ukraine and in the West, NATO-Ukraine relations are often being wrongly reduced to the issue of an existent or non-existent membership perspective.

Far from underestimating the membership angle, we should start by saying that the decade of NATO- Ukraine cooperation in the NUC framework has been a success story so far. Signing the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership in 1997 may have been once perceived by many as merely balancing the upgrade of NATO-Russia relations through the Founding Act and the NATO - Russia PJC that being itself part of compensation for the forthcoming NATO enlargement. Today however, no one can deny the very tangible results.

The Orange Revolution gave the NATO-Ukraine relationship an important push forward and the NUC instruments started to fill up with substance. In April 2005 the effort of the orange government in pursuing domestic reforms and strengthening cooperation with NATO has been ultimately crowned by opening of the so called Intensified Dialogue on Ukraine´s aspirations to membership and relevant reforms. This instrument - established in Madrid - has already served as the first point of reference during previous NATO enlargements.

In September 2006 Ukraine declared at the meeting with the North Atlantic Council kind of a pause in the integration process by stating that the low public support of membership needed to be addressed before Ukraine would proceed to the MAP phase.

We should not pretend that the recent crisis between the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affaires was without effect on NATO-UA cooperation. Despite the coalition declaration - "Universal of National Unity" - we have noted inconsistent messages from different parts of the Ukrainian executive, weakening of political dialogue and certain uneasiness in mutual NATO-UA relations. However, we don't despair. We are confident that, once the new minister of foreign affairs assumes his office, we will be able, short of strong statements on membership question, to revive full intensity of our dialogue and cooperation with MFA and other parts of the executive. The fulfillment of the Ukrainian government's commitment to develop objective and neutral information campaign on the E-A integration should remain a high priority.

From my own experience (visit to Kharkiv) I can confirm that, particularly in the regions, objective information about NATO is more than needed. Both NATO supporters and opponents base their judgment and argument on an oversimplified, polarized, idealized or demonized vision, still reflecting the Cold War heritage. They either put false expectations in NATO or reject it blindly.

A year ago the prospects of an Information Campaign in Ukraine seemed much more promising than these days. The government allocated important budget to its effort to increase public awareness about NATO; the cooperation between state officials and NGO´s, as well as the cooperation between central and local authorities kept improving.
Today, six months since the Ukrainian government announced to NATO ambassadors its determination to start the information campaign, the respective budget was shifted from the MFA to the Ministry of Education and Science that has little experience in this matter. Canceling of many MFA Public Diplomacy projects has negatively affected NGOs that had already invested money and resources in the preparations.

NGOs should have a significant role in the process. In Sintra October 2006 ministerial meeting (MFA) a fresh initiative under the "Civic League Ukraine - NATO" has been born, in support of the NGO´s dealing with information issues in Ukraine. CZ joined its signature to the "Letter of Intent Expressing Support for the NATO - Ukraine Partnership Network for Civil Society Expertise Development". We will encourage and support the already active Czech NGO´s to continue and strengthen their engagement in Ukraine.

The other prominent area of the NATO-Ukraine cooperation is naturally the Defense and Security Sector Reform. NATO assists Ukraine in implementing State Programme on Defense Reform for 2006-2011 and National Security Sector Review; it helps approaching NATO (and thus implicitly EU) standards in training and equipment, it provides advice and resources in support of retraining and resettlement of redundant military personnel, it contributes the process of strengthening the civil and democratic control of the Arm Forces as well as of the security forces, including the intelligence agencies. Since 2002 three large NATO/PfP Trust Funds amounting to a total of about € 9 millions have been established aiming respectively to: 1. Antipersonnel Landmine destruction, 2. Munitions, MANPADs and SALW destruction and 3. Retraining and resettlement program for departing servicemen.

Given the current high profile of operations on the NATO agenda, one could not leave this topic untouched. Ukraine's interest in pursuing and developing the NATO-Ukraine military cooperation seems to be sincere. Government's effort to remove legal obstacles to military exercises of foreign forces on Ukrainian territory can be mentioned as an example. Ukraine is the only PfP country that has deployed instructors in NTM-I and its 180 soldiers have continued their participation in KFOR. A Naval point of contact for OAE has been established in Sevastopol and Ukrainian vessel completed Mission Oriented Training (11/06) - it should join OAE in spring 2007.
President Yuscenko´s decree from 26 January 2007, envisaging sending peacekeeping personnel to ISAF, has been noted with high expectations. An immediate implementation of this decision would send a strong political signal and confirm credibility of UA government's public statements, as this goal was already mentioned in the Annual Target Plan for 2006.

It should be stressed that NATO-Ukraine cooperation is not a one-way street, as it would seem from my previous remarks. It is a mutually beneficial relationship and Ukraine is one of the key NATO partners. Ratification of the Memorandum of Understanding between NATO and Ukraine Regarding the Use of Strategic Airlift by the Verchovna Rada on 5 October 2006 gives Ukrainian government an enormous opportunity to become an essential contributor to NATO operations by bridging an outstanding gap in NATO military capabilities. Every offer of airlift capacity in the form of a force contribution and not only on reimbursement basis would immensely strengthen Ukraine position among other partner countries.

Other window of opportunity for Ukraine worth mentioning is the developing concept of partner countries involvement in NATO Response Force. Proactive approach by Ukraine in the initial phase of the project, either through its strategic airlift capacity or through other form of contribution, would also be beneficial to both sides, as the NRF is also an effective tool for transformation of military forces.

To summarize, we should reiterate that a unique relationship between NATO and Ukraine is less dependent on Ukraine's determination to become a member than on its unambiguous willingness to mutually beneficial cooperation that must be reflected in practical involvement in relevant allied activities. The implementation of the strategic airlift memorandum is one of the examples of unused potential that might substantively raised Ukraine's profile with the Alliance and we are confident that Ukraine will recognize the benefits of exploring this way.

Remarks by the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the North Atlantic Council Mr. Stefan Füle at Europe-Ukraine Forum 2007 in Wroclaw, 23 February 2007.