The Ukraine-NATO Interparliamentary Council (UNIC), the parliamentary counterpart to the NATO-Ukraine Commission, gathered at NATO Headquarters in Brussels for exchanges with senior NATO officials on 24 January, amidst growing concerns about Russia’s ongoing military build-up along Ukraine’s border.
“We are united in our strong condemnation of Russia’s provocative, reckless and unjustified military build-up on the eastern borders of Ukraine and aggressive rhetoric”, read a statement released after the meeting by the two UNIC Co-chairs Oleksandr Kornyenko (Ukraine), First Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, and Michal Szczerba (Poland), Deputy Head of the Polish delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA).
Ukrainian lawmaker Yehor Cherniev, Head of the Ukrainian Delegation to the NATO PA, highlighted the importance of NATO’s support for Ukraine at a time where “the risk of [Russian] invasion is quite high”.
In turn, Mr Kornyenko stressed how Ukraine needs “military assistance now, not after the war has already begun”.
NATO PA President, Congressman Gerald E. Connolly (United States), reiterated the Assembly’s full solidarity with Ukraine and called on Allied nations to keep up strong pressure on Russia.
“The plain and simple truth is that Russia is the aggressor, not Ukraine nor NATO,” he stressed. “Yes, security concessions must be made in order to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. And restoring the sovereign territory of a free country would be a good place for Russia to start.”
Freshly elected as the new UNIC Co-chair during the meeting, Mr Szczerba also noted that “Russia bears sole responsibility for putting Europe’s security order at risk.”
Lawmakers stressed that Allies have demonstrated their readiness to work with Russia towards a diplomatic resolution. It is now up to Russia to demonstrate it is prepared to de-escalate and choose the path of diplomacy.
Diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions have been made in close coordination with Ukraine because no decisions about Ukraine should be made without Ukraine, parliamentarians heard throughout the day.
Other Allied participants echoed these messages and reiterated their firm support for Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity. They also firmly condemned Russia’s illegal, illegitimate and forcible occupation of Crimea, which will never be recognised.
All participants were united that, like every sovereign nation, Ukraine has the right to choose its security path and that NATO’s Open Door policy remains non-negotiable.
The 21 Allied and 8 Ukrainian parliamentarians also discussed the next steps in the political relationship between Ukraine and NATO; increased practical support to Ukraine; current and future priorities for NATO-Ukraine defence cooperation as an Enhanced Opportunity Partner; and progress on Ukraine’s comprehensive reform processes.
NATO PA members reiterated their commitment to continue to support Ukraine on its path of reform. The Assembly will also visibly demonstrate its commitment and cooperation when it holds its 2022 Spring Session in Kyiv.
UNIC was created in 1998 to bring greater transparency to the implementation of the NATO–Ukraine Charter and to demonstrate parliamentary interest and involvement in cooperation between NATO and Ukraine. It has since become a wider forum where members can discuss any issues of mutual concern. UNIC meets twice a year: once in Brussels at NATO HQ and once in Ukraine. Its meetings are also open to the members of the Political Committee’s Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships.