We have now moved “from politicking to actual debate on NATO”, Volodymyr Lytvyn, Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament told the delegation. Assen Agov (Bulgaria ), Co-Chair of UNIC, recognized that “it is up to Ukraine to choose its path; NATO is not in the business of recruiting new members”.
NATO officials’ assessment of Ukraine ’s implementation of its 2010 Annual National Programme (ANP) with NATO was overall positive. They noted that the non-block status policy had not impacted political and practical cooperation, which had even intensified. They also saluted Ukraine ’s unique contribution to almost all NATO operations. However, they regretted delays in the adoption of the 2011 ANP, which had only been finalised in April, noted a continued low level of defence budget, called for further progress on the democratic reform agenda, and urged Ukraine to consider contributions to NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield off the coast of Somalia, Operation Unified Protector in Libya and the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.
President Yanukovich has made EU integration the main objective of Ukraine ’s foreign policy, the delegation heard, stating that EU integration was the best guarantee of Ukraine ’s non-block status. Many of the delegation’s interlocutors stressed the complementarity between the reform priorities set by the EU integration process and Ukraine ’s Annual National Programmes with NATO.
A major test for Ukraine ’s EU integration was coming at the end of 2011 as Kyiv is hoping to conclude an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU. The DCFTA was supported by the overwhelming majority of political forces in Ukraine, the delegation heard. While there had been some concerns about the compatibility of the DCFTA with parallel plans for a rapprochement with the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Ukrainian officials and foreign diplomats assured the delegation that President Yanukovich’s proposed “3+1” agreement with the Customs Union – i.e. cooperation with the Customs Union short of membership – would be fully compatible with the DCFTA.
Nevertheless, NATO officials, foreign diplomats, opposition parliamentarians and civil society raised concerns regarding recent political and economic developments, citing in particular trials against prominent figures of the opposition, changes to the electoral law, political influence over the judiciary, lack of transparency of the privatization process, and high levels of corruption. The delegation also enquired about developments regarding media freedom, including the disappearance of reporter Vasyl Klymentyev. In the economic realm, experts stressed that strong economic growth in 2010 and 2011 should not hide the continued fragility of the fundamentals of Ukraine ’s economy.
NATO parliamentarians thus urged their Ukrainian counterparts to accelerate political and economic reform. “Ukraine ’s democratic achievements clearly stand out in the post-Soviet area, and we all hope that Ukraine will stay on this path”, Mr Agov told his Ukrainian counterparts. “Continued engagement with Ukraine in the EU and in NATO is the best way to support the continuation of reforms in this pivotal European country”, Hendrik Jan Ormel, Chairman of the NATO PA’s Sub-Committee on Democratic Governance, added.
Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the key figures of the opposition, pleaded that EU and NATO partners should not let apparent signs of an “erosion of democracy” derail negotiations over the Association Agreement and DCFTA with the EU. The conclusion and ratification of these agreements with the EU would help anchor Ukraine firmly in the European family of democracies. “Keeping Ukraine ’s European course and preserving the democratic achievements of the Orange Revolution are the country’s two main challenges”, she stressed.
The Sub-Committee on Democratic Governance will be examining a report by Senator Lucio Malan (Italy ) on developments in Ukraine ’s domestic and foreign policy at the NATO PA’s annual session in Bucharest in October 2011. “I see the lively debates and diversity of opinions we have witnessed during our meetings in Kyiv, including exchanges of views between parliamentarians from the ruling party and the opposition, as a very positive development”, Mr Ormel said. “This will be extremely useful in refining our assessment of recent developments in Ukraine in the Sub-Committee’s report”.