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Ukraine: NATO Refuses To Invite Kuchma To Prague Summit

  • Askold Krushelnycky

NATO this week said it would not invite Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to its summit in Prague on 21 November. The move is widely seen as a snub because of Kuchma's approval two years ago to sell a sophisticated radar system to Iraq.

Prague, 1 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- NATO this week said it would not invite Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to its summit in Prague on 21 November. Analysts say Kuchma was eager to attend personally. But NATO said Ukraine's meeting with the military alliance would be conducted at the foreign-minister level.

The snub is seen as a reaction to Kuchma's approval two years ago to sell a sophisticated radar system, called Kolchuha, to Iraq. Kolchuha is a "passive radar" system that, unlike conventional radar, can target U.S. and British warplanes flying over Iraq without the planes detecting that they have been spotted.

The U.S. government says that it does not know if the Kolchuha radar has been delivered, but in September it said it was convinced that secret recordings, allegedly of Kuchma approving the Kolchuha sale, were authentic. Kuchma has denied the allegations.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko has threatened to boycott the NATO summit and accused the United States of seeking to deny Kuchma a place at the meeting. He called the U.S. policy "misguided" but said Ukraine would not abandon its efforts to forge closer ties with NATO and the European Union. "The special relationship between Ukraine and the alliance is an integral element of European security. Therefore, the positive basis for our relationship remains unaltered, and we are not changing course. Second, I would not like the decision of the North Atlantic Council [NATO's top political body] to become the pretext for internal speculation within Ukraine. There is no crisis in Ukraine's relationship with NATO. There are certain collisions [differences] in the relationship with one of the alliance's members. But I'm sure that all of this is temporary. The collisions will pass, and the special relationship will remain," Zlenko said.

Valeriy Chaliy, the director of international studies at the independent Rozumkov Center for Political and Economic Research in Kyiv, said the Ukrainian government should not react emotionally and that talks about Ukrainian membership in NATO could proceed at the foreign-minister level. Chaliy said cooperation with NATO had yielded tangible benefits for Ukraine, and it is important that these not be lost because of the present confrontation. "I'm very worried that in this situation we don't mix everything together in the same pile. We do have positive results from our work with NATO that involve many thousands of people who are committed to this work and who, in principle, see the positive prospects for Ukraine in this. I think it would be wrong to wipe out at all this with one stroke," Chaliy said.

Chaliy said the present situation should serve as a reminder to Ukraine that it must satisfy NATO political requirements for democratic practice, as well as the alliance's military criteria. "We didn't always pay attention, and we have talked about the military criteria while forgetting that the primary criteria for NATO membership lies within the domestic sphere, the political sphere -- the level of democracy, etc. And this present situation underlines the failure of Ukraine in these spheres. Therefore, I think that if a new level of ties emerges out of this situation, higher than those outlined in the existing charter, if the door is left open for Ukrainian entry into NATO, if cooperation continues to develop there between Ukraine and NATO, that's the most we should count on for the moment. And that would not a bad result in the circumstances," Chaliy said.

The director of the independent Pylyp Orlyk think tank in Kyiv, Markian Bilynskyy, does not believe Ukraine's relations with NATO will suffer because of the accusations against Kuchma. He said, "what counts is the substance of dialogue and not who represents Ukraine at the dialogue."

"NATO as an organization is trying not to identify any personal disillusionment with President Kuchma with what's right for the relationship between NATO and Ukraine," Bilynskyy said.

Bilynskyy said Ukraine's relations with the NATO may have temporarily taken a turn for the worse, but in the long run the West wants better relations with Ukraine because of its size and importance. "I think it [the difficulties] will be a temporary issue, a temporary blip. The reason for this, I think, is that whether we're talking NATO or the EU or the World Bank, which is continuing to work here in Ukraine, we're talking about a country that is very important irrespective of the alleged machinations or moral and ethical peculiarities of its leadership. We have a country that is objectively a key player in Europe and, therefore, basing a policy on attitudes toward the personality of leaders is no way to construct a strategy," Bilynskyy said.

Kuchma has said Ukraine will continue to seek closer ties with Western Europe and its organizations. In the past he has signaled his displeasure at what he believes are unfriendly actions by the West. Bilynskyy said this may happen again, but such actions would not have a fundamental effect on Ukrainian foreign policy. "This is a not a reflection of any strategy but of the president's own whimsical personality and his perception of how much he is appreciated as a leader in the West. Nevertheless, it's episodic. It's not deep, and it doesn't mean there is a fundamental change in Ukraine's orientation. Besides, even if this president were to announce or articulate or pursue an alternative foreign-policy orientation for Ukraine, I feel it is too close to the end of his presidency, and there are too many powerful forces aligned against such a change in orientation for it to bear fruition," Bilynskyy said.

Washington has made it clear the NATO snub is aimed at Kuchma. The United States says it does not want Ukraine to withdraw its application for NATO membership.

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