Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

The results of the June (2021) NATO summit showed that the Alliance in relation to Ukraine is acting according to the proverb: «Promising to marry does not mean doing it»

At the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, member states reaffirmed their commitment to the open-door policy. 13 years later, Ukraine and Georgia did not receive either membership or a MAP, while both states were subjected to armed aggression by the Russian Federation, which continues to occupy part of the territories of both states. At the same time, instability in the Baltic-Black Sea region is only increasing. Russia, which has gradually modernized its armed forces, in quantitative and qualitative terms, remains the main factor of tension, and has already turned the Sea of ??Azov into its own lake, blocking the Kerch Strait and obstructing free navigation, conducting large-scale exercises near the borders of the alliance and daringly violating the sea and air space neighboring countries.

Beginning in April this year, the Russian Federation has deployed a powerful force around the Ukrainian borders, creating a forward group to launch a full-scale offensive deep into Ukrainian territory. To date, Russia has withdrawn only 10,000 troops, while about a hundred thousand of Russian soldiers with equipment remain in positions in the border areas with Ukraine in the Voronezh, Belgorod, Rostov regions and on the territory of the temporarily occupied Crimea. In the absence of a decisive common response from the NATO member states to the aggressive policy of the Kremlin, the question arises, is NATO still capable of fulfilling its primary task of a defense alliance, or is the alliance gradually turning into an organization combating climate change?

Of course, it is the United States of America that plays the main role in NATO. During the presidency of Donald Trump, the unity between the allies was damaged, so high hopes for strengthening the transatlantic unity were pinned on the new administration of Joe Biden. Even before taking office as president, Joseph Biden announced his intention to restore solidarity with NATO member states, which was welcomed by the governments of these countries. However, as Politico notes, the EU is an important part of the American network of alliances, however, unlike during the Cold War, Europe is no longer the central front of the US struggle for global dominance. In fact, the Biden administration's actions have shown his focus on China and the lack of attention to Europe. The fact that Europe is not a priority for Biden is already reflected in his administration’s staffing and policy choices.[1] Thus, Washington's focus on the Indo-Pacific region, given the lack of unity between European countries in agreeing on a common policy towards Russia, may create obstacles in the context of deterring Moscow.

Comparing the military exercises of the Russian Federation with the exercises conducted by NATO, the different scales are striking, and hence the perception of external threats by the parties. About 80,000 people were involved in the Russian exercises Kavkaz-2020. At the same time, the North Atlantic Alliance, instead of having large-scale exercises, the purpose of which would be to practice the conduct of military operations along the entire eastern flank of NATO, is conducting tactical exercises like DefenderEurope21, Rapid Trident, or Steadfast Defender 2021, the largest-scale of which, «Defender Europe - 21», numbered 28,00 military. Thus, NATO not only avoids emphasizing the defense tasks of the alliance in the rhetoric of its officials, but in practice it does not adequately respond to Russian aggression.

It is no coincidence that the issue of providing a MAP to Ukraine at the NATO summit was an undesirable topic for a number of Allies. Western European member states do not want to provoke Putin, who called Ukraine's potential accession to NATO a red line. «Imagine that Ukraine becomes a member of NATO. Flight time (of missiles) from Kharkov or, say, Dnepropetrovsk to central Russia, to Moscow - will decrease to 7-10 minutes. Are these red lines for us or not? We must keep this in mind and build our security relations with our partners accordingly», the Russian president said. It is worth noting that the security aspect should not be considered as the only reason that determines the Kremlin's position, because the Baltic countries are closer to Moscow than Kharkiv and Dnipro. The Russian Federation is trying to keep Ukraine in its own orbit, and in recent months, given the loss of its influence inside Ukraine as a result of Vladimir Zelensky's effective struggle with pro-Russian forces inside the country, the Kremlin is shifting political pressure to military. This is evidenced by the aggravation in the Donbas, as well as the large-scale deployment of armed forces around the Ukrainian border.

In this case, we do not see an adequate response from NATO, which member states are trying to avoid direct confrontation with the Russian Federation. However, such a policy has already shown its ineffectiveness, because the refusal to grant a MAP to Ukraine and Georgia did not protect the West from confrontation with Russia, which, after the Bucharest summit, attacked first Georgia and then Ukraine. It is worth noting that the member states of the alliance have different perceptions of the scale of the threat from Russia. The position of the states on the eastern flank of NATO is fundamentally different from the position of the FRG and France. At the moment, Ukraine concentrates on itself about 25% of the Russian armed forces and almost 43% of their ground forces. If the armed aggression of Russia against Ukraine continues, then these states, the states of the Bucharest Nine (B-9), are in danger of Russian military intervention. Therefore, the B-9 countries supported Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations in a joint statement at the last summit. While the leaders of the Baltic states and Poland have openly declared their support in granting MAP to Ukraine.

The support of the countries of the eastern flank of NATO was one of the factors due to which, on June 14, at the summit of the alliance, the member states, in a joint communiqué announced that Ukraine and Georgia would become members of the Alliance with the Membership Action Plan (MAP) as an integral part of the process. However, as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated: «A couple of days before the summit, there was no mention of the MAP for Ukraine in the text of the declaration. It is true that we literally gnawed it out at the last moment due to our own perseverance, honest conversation with NATO, and the strong support of our key friends. NATO summit declarations were adopted in 2014, 2016, and 2018. In none of them, the allies did not mention the MAP for Ukraine. They could, but did not mention it. Although at that time Ukraine was at war and deserved such support».[2]

NATO's attitude to the decision of the 2008 Bucharest summit seems to be the same as to the Budapest Memorandum: They promise a commitment to its principles, while openly ignoring them acting according to proverbs: «Promising to marry does not mean doing it». You can keep assuring even for eternity, the main thing is not to refuse. It is no coincidence that at the very first telephone conversation Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked US President Joe Biden: «Why is Ukraine still not in NATO?»

At present, the reasons for keeping Ukraine behind closed doors are quite prosaic. NATO not only does not want to irritate Russia, but it is no longer able to confront it. The NATO Secretary General's words have been the same for many years: «We do not perceive Russia as a threat to NATO, but at the same time we adhere to the principle of containment and dialogue with Russian Federation». At the same time, NATO Secretary General Jan Jens Stoltenberg has stated his readiness to conduct a dialogue with Russia, which coincides with the rhetoric of US President Joe Biden. «The main signal we will send to Russia is that it cannot divide us. The Alliance is united in our message: defense and deterrence combined with dialogue».

Thus, it is not a question of confronting Russia's aggressive actions, but only of «deterrence» these actions in order to reduce their activity. And this is the language of the «prayer- defeatist», not of the powerful military alliance that NATO once was. It is no coincidence that Putin considers this organization weak and as soon as NATO touches Russia's interests, he will «knock heads». So, during the Economic Forum, which took place this month in St. Petersburg, he reiterated that the United States is trying to «restrain» Russia's development. A few days ago, he threatened to «knock out» any foreign aggressor who wanted to «bite» Russia, and insisted that the world should realize the restored status and strength of his country.[3]

It is possible to keep Ukraine away from the MAP, replacing it with the ephemeral Annual National Program (ANP) for at least eternity. After all, it is very advantageous for the Alliance to keep reassuring Ukraine. This is a toy that is given to a child so that it does not particularly bother others. Because, unlike the MAP, NATO has no responsibility for the Annual National Program, while the Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a mutual commitment. It is no coincidence that Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that, unlike Ukraine, NATO has done absolutely nothing since the Bucharest Summit to bring it closer to the membership.

And still the organization does not provide the MAP, because it is not going to do anything, even despite the fact that the Russian military force is already on the eastern borders of the alliance. This bears witness to the one thing that NATO is increasingly transforming into the security and humanitarian organization such as the OSCE. Just to look at the phrase from the Final Communiqué of the June NATO Summit - 2021. Instead of recognizing Russia as an aggressor, it called on Russia «to be open and transparent about its no-notice snap exercises, large-scale exercises and large-scale troop movements, in accordance with its Vienna Document commitments, particularly in light of its recent unprovoked and unjustified military build-up in and around Ukraine». As if the NATO leadership does not know that Russia has withdrawn from the Vienna Convention and has not complied with its commitments for a long time. Or does he not know the intelligence data of the NATO countries that these were not the April trainings, but the strategic deployment of Russian troops for a large-scale invasion of Ukraine through a strategic offensive operation?

Also, it was decided at the summit to increase the military spendings of the member states. It is worth noting that some of the NATO countries have not yet fulfilled the conditions to increase military spending to 2% of GDP approved at the Wales summit. Given the increase in Russia's aggressive policy in the Baltic-Black Sea region, it can be stated that the North Atlantic Alliance is not able to change the Kremlin's policy through dialogue.

An increase in defense spending and in the level of interaction with Ukraine, as well as an increase in the presence in the region and the conduct of large-scale exercises can be considered an adequate response to the destructive policy of the Russian Federation. Ukraine, in turn, should continue the dialogue with the member states of the Alliance on the issue of granting MAP and its further membership. At the same time, the country's government should keep implementing reforms within the state in order to have an additional argument in support of its NATO membership.