Co-chaired by Assen Agov (Bulgaria ) and Andriy Shkil (Ukraine), the Council met with a range of officials as well as independent experts who provided insights into the issues facing Ukraine. Most assured the Council that Ukraine plans to retain a solid relationship with NATO and fulfil all existing commitments, although membership in the Alliance is not a goal of the current government.
The Speaker of the parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, stressed that Ukraine is determined to maintain all of its forms of cooperation with NATO and will focus on implementing existing agreements. Mykola Tomenko, the Deputy Speaker of the parliament noted that there is a certain inconsistency in Ukraine ’s draft law on national security. It states that Ukraine will be a “non-block” country without binding alliances, but also sees Ukraine as fitting into a system of European collective security. The draft law was a focus of discussion among the parliamentarians and several Ukrainian members of UNIC were sceptical of the draft law in its current form. Although Aleyna Hetmanchuk, Director of the Institute for World Policy, was confident that Ukraine would eventually return to a path of Euro-Atlantic integration, other speakers such as Olexandr Sushko, Director of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation underlined the growing influence of Russia in Ukraine.
Another topic of discussion was the agreement between Russia and Ukraine that allows Russia to maintain the Black Sea fleet base at Sevastopol for an additional 25 years. The agreement includes an arrangement that folds approximately 30 percent of the price of Russian gas supplied to Ukraine into debt obligations to be paid in the form of rent on the base at Sevastopol. This will reduce current government expenditures, but it comes with a potential long-term cost. As Ukrainian member of parliament Ivan Zayets pointed out to the other members, this accumulated debt would make it difficult for Ukraine to ask for the base to be closed at a later date without making a large payment to Russia.
The presentations and discussion showed that there are many facets to Ukraine ’s foreign policy orientation and that it is not yet clear how they all fit together. On the one hand, Ukraine is extending the presence of the Russian military on Ukraine ’s territory, while also declaring itself to be a “non-block” state. On the other, it is attempting to maintain a constructive relationship with the NATO and the EU and incorporate itself into European structures. Members of the council from NATO member countries were encouraged, however, to hear that Ukraine plans to maintain its current level of cooperation with NATO and stressed that the relationship is driven by Ukraine’s needs. As Assen Agov said, “Ukraine has the right of all sovereign states to chart its own foreign policy direction. It is not yet clear that there is a national consensus on what that should be, but all forms of NATO partnership and cooperation are open to Ukraine”.