2020 has become a landmark for Ukraine in the context of relations with NATO. A large-scale military exercise «Joint Efforts - 2020» which took place in the Black Sea and on the territory of Ukraine, in response to the Russian «Kaukasus - 2020» were held. In addition, on June 12, 2020 the North Atlantic Council recognized Ukraine as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner (EOP).
As an Enhanced opportunities Partner, Ukraine will be able to participate in the planning of NATO operations and will gain an access to all NATO exercises which will allow to access the best practices and priority certification of forces and assets. The exchange of intelligence data with the Alliance is also becoming available. Moreover, representatives of Ukraine will be able to hold positions at NATO headquarters and command.
This event became one more step towards Ukraine's main goal in its relations with NATO - a full membership. Considering the results of the presidential elections in the United States, the victory of Joe Biden, a candidate who seeks to restore the system of the alliances of the United States of America, as well as the initiative of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to create a new ten-year strategy for the Alliance, further prospects for the development of integration to NATO appear in Ukraine.
In early September, Ukraine and Georgia were officially included in the process of forming a new strategy for the NATO-2030 Alliance at the government level. Olha Stefanishyna, Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, stressed that within the framework of these consultations, Ukraine will seek to include the issue of its membership in the Alliance in the Strategic Concept. This issue is also mentioned in an expert report published on the NATO website on November 25 with the recommendations on the formation of the Alliance's strategy. This material noted the importance of the Alliance's commitment to the «open door» policy with the aim of strengthening NATO's eastern flank and increasing interaction with Eastern partners, in particular Ukraine and Georgia.
The authors of the report provided the following recommendations:
1) NATO must remain committed to the decision of the 2008 Bucharest Summit and raise the issue of membership negotiations to a higher level
2) NATO should seek to expand and strengthen its partnership with Ukraine and Georgia that are striving to become members of the Alliance and suffering constant external and internal pressure by Russia
3) The situation in Ukraine must remain high on the agenda of the NATO-Russia Council. Returning to «business as usual» with the Russian Federation is not possible until it changes its behavior.
4) The price for further Russian aggression against Ukraine should be raised - sanctions against Russia should not only be renewed, but be tightened.
5) Practice of single-country blockages and use of cooperation within the Alliance to address issues of bilateral relations, should be stopped.
Commenting on the report, First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova noted that Ukraine is optimistic. «In 2030, we see ourselves as a full member of the Alliance. In this context, Membership Action Plan will be a new strong incentive to Ukraine to proceed with reforms and to mobilize efforts to meet the criteria for the membership».
The rhetoric of NATO representatives directly on Georgia deserves special attention. NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia James Appathurai in an interview with Georgia's First Channel said that the MAP issue for Georgia in the North Atlantic Alliance will be considered at the 2021 summit. «There is really an active discussion in NATO about the open-door policy. How do we take it forward; how do we make it real; how do we help our partners? That’s something that we are going to energize again in the coming months. I’m reasonably sure that open-door policy will be one of the things that get discussed in the development of the 2021 summit Communiqué».
At the same time, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at a meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia on September 29 in Brussels, highlighted that earlier this year, Allies agreed to strengthen the NATO-Georgia partnership even further. Speaking about NATO’s close cooperation with Georgia on Black Sea security, he said that «Allies agreed to share more air traffic radar data, working jointly to address hybrid threats, as well as doing joint exercises in the Black Sea region. And I encourage you (the Georgian government) to continue making full use of all the opportunities for coming closer to NATO. And to prepare for membership». Jens Stoltenberg is generally not inclined to impromptu. And this phrase was obviously agreed with the allies in advance.
The secretary general read it from his prepared speech, it was also added to the official NATO statement on the meeting with the Georgian guest. In addition, in October, an additional mention that the country is already preparing for membership «through the development and successful implementation of annual national programs (ANP) appeared in the section of the NATO website describing relations with Georgia».
After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Russian Federation continues to militarize the peninsula. Realizing the tendencies and threats posed by Russian policy around its borders and in the Mediterranean region, the North Atlantic Alliance is gradually increasing its presence in the Black Sea. During the expert discussions, the issue of necessity of strengthening NATO's capabilities in the Black Sea region to the level of the Baltic one is increasingly raised. In case the North Atlantic Alliance finally provides Georgia with the MAP, which leads to accession procedure and full NATO membership, this step, in particular, will change the geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus. At the moment there are two main powers in South Caucasus: Russia and Turkey, which is pursuing a relatively independent foreign policy aimed at spreading its influence around its borders. After the events in Nagorno-Karabakh and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers, Azerbaijan became the sixth Eastern Partnership country with Russian troops on its territory. In fact, the West has once again allowed the Russian Federation to spread its own influence in the post-Soviet space. Potential NATO enlargement with Georgia's accession will change the balance of power not only in the Caucasus, but also in the Baltic-Black Sea region as a whole and will lead to Alliance capabilities strengthening in the context of deterring Russia.
Georgia's progress is welcomed in Ukraine. According to «European Truth», Georgia's membership may become a precedent for coordinating the entry of the state with the occupied territories, and later it can help Ukraine as well. It is worth noting that the country's leadership still has a lot of work to do within the country on defense sector reform, SBU reform, and democratic transformation. Ukrainian-Hungarian relations remain an obstacle to a membership, although the Alliance's collective interests have been paramount in granting Ukraine an Enhanced Opportunities Partner status. Internal crises, and decisions of state bodies that contradict the state course of Ukraine are also among the factors hindering Euro-Atlantic integration. At the same time the fact Ukraine continued the Euro-Atlantic course under President Zelenskyy was an important signal for Western partners, which testifies to the continuity of the foreign policy orientation and is an important aspect for Ukraine's reputation as a reliable and predictable partner.
Further progress in the context of NATO integration, in particular, is possible through deepening bilateral interaction with Allies and participation in regional initiatives. Within the Black Sea region, Ukraine has significantly strengthened its ties with Turkey. The two countries are intensifying their cooperation in the military-industrial, economic and political spheres. On October 16, 2020, Ukraine and the Republic of Turkey announced the establishment of the «Quadriga» format, which provides for annual meetings of foreign and defense ministers to discuss political and security issues. Also, there is a need to create a joint infrastructure with Romania in Southern Ukraine. Such an initiative will create the conditions for the possible movement of NATO forces stationed in the neighboring country. Deepening relations with the United States, the United Kingdom and the development of the «Lublin Triangle» remains a priority.
Given the large number of transformations that Ukraine must make inside the country, as well as the position of individual states in the Alliance, we can make a conclusion that Ukraine must make significant efforts to obtain the MAP and, finally, become a NATO member state. But, realizing that Ukraine is de facto the Eastern flank of the Alliance, considering the possible changes in NATO's approaches to the Black Sea region after the upcoming conference, Ukraine has a chance to advance towards membership. The main task for Ukraine remains to carry out reforms and deepen practical cooperation with the NATO member states along with an actual integration into the Euro-Atlantic system, which in turn, under favorable conditions, will allow the state to obtain membership in the Alliance.