NATO: Kyiv, Tbilisi Face More NATO Obstacles Than Simply Russian Resistance
Just days after the summit concluded, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced a public-relations campaign aimed at selling a skeptical public on the benefits of joining the trans-Atlantic alliance.
These two presidential announcements represent clear attempts by Tbilisi and Kyiv to address key weak spots in their respective NATO bids.
At their summit in the Romanian capital on April 2-4, the trans-Atlantic bloc's 26 heads of state stopped short of granting Georgia and Ukraine Membership Action Plans (MAP) -- a key step before joining. They postponed that decision until at least December, when NATO foreign ministers are due to meet.
"It is a political decision of the 26 whether or not to offer a Membership Action Plan. And they will take, and they are taking account of the broadest range of practical and political considerations," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters during the Bucharest summit.
Among those considerations, of course, is a reluctance on the part of some members -- most notably Germany and France -- to antagonize Russia, which staunchly opposes Georgia and Ukraine's efforts to join the Western alliance.
But analysts say it isn't just Russian opposition that is keeping the two former Soviet republics' NATO dreams on hold. Although both countries have made impressive progress on military and political reform, both also still have significant issues that need to be resolved.
Analysts say Georgia also needs to complete critical political reforms and must make progress in resolving conflicts in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are strongly supported by Moscow.
For its part, Ukraine needs to overcome deep divisions in both the public and the political elite over joining NATO, and fully bring its armed forces under civilian control.
'A Political Army'
NATO officials say Ukraine has made great strides in bringing its military in line with the alliance's standards. Concerns remain, however, regarding the country's Interior Ministry troops, which are highly politicized and slow to reform.
"These is a problem with civilian control over the armed forces," says Eugeniusz Smolar of the Warsaw-based Center for International Relations explains. "In Ukraine there is a so-called Interior Army, which is unacceptable from the point of view of NATO standards. It is subjugated to the minister of the interior. This is a problem. This is a sort of political army, which we can't have. So they have a job to do."
Yushchenko has tried, thus far unsuccessfully, to reform the Interior Ministry troops. On April 8, for example, parliament rejected a bill that would have turned the Interior Ministry troops into a Ukrainian National Guard directly subordinate to the president.
The Ukrainian president is also trying to convince a skeptical public that joining NATO is a good idea. According to recent polls, just one in four Ukrainians supports joining the military alliance, and the political elite remains deeply divided as well.
Yushchenko's pro-Moscow political opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, and his Party of Regions staunchly oppose joining NATO. And even Yushchenko's Orange Revolution ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, while generally supportive, has been reluctant to embrace the goal as enthusiastically as the president would like.
The issue promises to be hotly contested in Ukraine's 2010 presidential election. Yanukovych is widely expected to challenge Yushchenko in that race and Tymoshenko is also believed to be considering a run.
Yushchenko this week announced that Ukraine would hold a referendum on NATO membership in two years' time.
Tbilisi's Political Challenges
Georgia also has some work to do before its bid for a MAP is considered at NATO's foreign ministers' meeting in December.
"If you look at the Riga summit declaration, the NATO countries encouraged Georgia to continue making progress on political, economic, and military reform," says Koba Liklikadze, a military affairs correspondent with RFE/RL's Georgian Service, referring to the declaration from the November 2006 summit in the Latvian capital. "This includes strengthening judicial reform and a peaceful -- and I want to underline peaceful -- resolution of outstanding conflicts on its territory."
Most Western analysts say Georgia has made significant progress in bringing its military in line with NATO standards. Its forces are under civilian control and its troops are increasingly well-trained and equipped.
But Tbilisi still has some gaps to fill in its political reforms. Most notably, analysts say Georgia needs to reform its highly politicized judicial system.
Moreover, Georgia's reputation as a beacon of democratic reform in a largely authoritarian South Caucus region suffered a severe blow in November when President Mikheil Saakashvili temporarily declared emergency rule following opposition street protests.
Georgian officials have long argued that NATO membership would help to deepen democracy and prevent backsliding on the progress made thus far. But some analysts say such a strategy -- reportedly employed by Saakashvili in Bucharest -- could prove counterproductive.
"If the quality and strength of Georgian democracy depends on NATO, that means that NATO will hesitate before it will accept you among us," Smolar says.
Saakashvili says he is aware of Western concerns about the permanence of Georgia's reforms, and that parliamentary elections scheduled for May 21 will be a critical test of his country's democratic mettle. He even proposed inserting language in the Bucharest summit's final communique to allay fears that Tbilisi is backsliding on democratic reform.
"It was our initiative to include into the communique the phrase about the necessity to conduct fair and clean elections," Saakashvili said in a recent interview with Georgia's Rustavi-2 television. "It was our proposal, which is [an effort] to show once again that Georgia has truly taken the path to democracy."
Saakashvili is also aware that he needs to show progress in resolving the so-called frozen conflicts in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On March 28, the Georgian president unveiled a peace plan that would offer Abkhazia broad autonomy, a joint free-trade zone, and a vice president who would have veto power over decisions related to the province.
Abkhaz officials have rejected the proposal.
In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili said Georgia's frozen conflicts will not be resolved until Russia shows a willingness to negotiate in good faith.
"The peace process has not started, because there is one country, called Russia, which does not want this process to start, and wants to continue the status quo," Iakobashvili says. "The only way to make Russia more amenable toward the peace process is for Georgia to enter NATO. This would end all talk about separatism, and since entering NATO is a process, we think that as soon as this process becomes irreversible, Russia will come to the negotiating table, so that the peace process will start and move on."
While Georgia and Ukraine are hoping they will finally get their MAPs in December, most analysts say the eight months between now and then is insufficient to satisfactorily address the issues on the table.
Smolar, for one, says the earliest realistic date will be NATO's 2009 summit in the eastern French city of Strasbourg and its German border town, Kehl.
"I expect this to happen at the 60th anniversary of NATO, if everything goes well. If Ukraine and Georgia do their homework," Smolar says.
RFE/RL's Georgian and Ukrainian services contributed to this report
To Steady EU And Ukrainian Courses, Rock The Boat
Such a role, they argue, would forever prevent Ukraine from assuming its rightful place in the West. Recent events suggest that their concerns are warranted.
Kyiv's bid at the recent NATO summit for a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a key step toward eventual membership, was always more symbolic than realistic.
After all, notwithstanding the desperation exhibited by Ukrainian officials ahead of the meeting in Bucharest, most Ukrainians remain staunchly opposed to NATO membership.
The European economic giants within NATO -- Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom -- have also been vocal in their opposition to Ukraine getting a MAP.
Ahead of the April 2-4 summit, those countries stressed the need for Ukraine to strengthen democratic institutions, improve the rule of law, ensure stability, and combat corruption -- the same mantras that "old Europe" has invoked to counter talk of Ukraine someday joining the European Union.
The underlying rationale for NATO's rejection of a MAP for Ukraine at this stage, however, is the European powers' reliance on Russian energy and the fear that Moscow would punish them if they agreed to allow Ukraine in.
NATO softened the blow by promising eventual membership and saying the MAP issue will be addressed again later this year.
Will anything change when NATO foreign ministers reopen the debate in December? Not unless Russia runs out of gas in eight months -- which, of course, is not going to happen.
The fact remains that the European powers collectively have invested tens of billions of euros into energy projects with Russia, and they do not want to risk losing those investments by upsetting the Kremlin.
With 80 percent of its Russian gas imports transiting Ukraine, the European Union's greatest nightmare is waking up one morning to find its gas artery severed due to internal conflict in Ukraine instigated by its powerful eastern neighbor.
Playing off those fears, Russian leaders are keen to see Ukraine play a role akin to that of Finland during the Cold War -- independent, yet toeing the Kremlin line on foreign policy and security.
Such a "Finlandization" of Ukraine would appear to have the benefit of satisfying "old Europe" while also allaying its fears of alienating Russia.
The realization of such a concept is something that Berlin, Paris, London, and Rome are likely to support in order to keep the gas taps open. It would also make two things clear: a) Ukraine's fate as a geopolitical buffer between the EU and Russia would be sealed; and b) Kyiv would, as a result, have no place within NATO's ranks.
But while not rocking the boat might serve Europe's short-term interests, it would be wise to take a hard look at the long-term advantages it stands to gain from ensuring a measure of control over the gas supplies that will largely shape its future.
Integrating Ukraine into Western structures like NATO and the European Union could go a long way toward achieving such control, while sparing Ukraine a fate as a Russian lackey.
Roman Kupchinsky is a former director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and a partner in the U.S.-based consultancy AZEast Group
Analysis: Who 'Won' The NATO Summit?
As the various delegations issued their final assessments before packing up to leave the Romanian capital on April 4, everybody was claiming victory. And in a way, everybody was right -- it just depended on which issue each side chose to highlight.
For Albania and Croatia, who received membership invitations, the summit was a clear triumph.
Russia pointed to the fact that Georgia and Ukraine were not granted their coveted Membership Action Plans (MAP), a key step before full membership, as evidence that the Kremlin had averted the alliance's further expansion into the post-Soviet space.
Washington, meanwhile, touted NATO's endorsement of a U.S.-backed missile-defense system in Europe, which Moscow staunchly opposes, as one key U.S. diplomatic victory.
Speaking to reporters prior to a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on April 4, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer acknowledged that the summit had illuminated the growing complexity of Moscow's relations with the trans-Atlantic alliance.
"Today our relations are truly multifaceted, influenced both by political realities and issues on which we differ, as well as by practical and very pragmatic common interests," de Hoop Scheffer said. "At our meeting here this morning, we'll take stock of our commonalities but also seek ways to intensify the process of finding political common denominators on the issues on which we do not agree."
Beyond A 'Shimmer Of A Doubt'
Spin aside, a close look at the summit's results shows that Washington and its allies in former-Communist "new Europe" actually walked away with a lot more than most had expected.
Take the issue of enlargement, for example -- an issue that initially looked like an embarrassing diplomatic blow to the United States. Washington -- backed by Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic States -- pushed hard for the NATO allies to give Georgia and Ukraine their MAPs in Bucharest. Germany and France, reluctant to provoke Russia, prevented that from happening.
But Tbilisi and Kyiv didn't walk away empty handed. In fact, they got something that both the Georgian and Ukrainian presidents claim is even better than a MAP: a firm commitment from NATO that they would eventually become full members.
In case there was any doubt about that seriousness of that commitment, de Hoop Scheffer meticulously spelled it out for everyone at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on April 4. "If the sentence, 'We agreed today that these countries...' in the text -- read Ukraine and Georgia -- '...will become members of NATO' leaves a shimmer of a doubt," he posited, "not in my opinion."
Robin Shepherd, head of the Europe Program at the London-based Chatham House think tank, described the result as a face-saving compromise whereby no side got everything it wanted, but no one was completely disappointed.
"This was the inevitable compromise that had to happen," Shepherd said. "Everybody, therefore, can walk away with something from this. The Americans have saved face because they've got a strong commitment to bring these countries into NATO, and the Europeans can save face because it didn't actually happen at this summit."
To hear Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, tell it, both walked away with smashing victories.
Saakashvili was reportedly furious on the evening of April 2, when it became clear that no MAPs would be granted. But by the afternoon of April 3, when the compromise solution emerged, Saakashvili could barely contain his delight in remarks to reporters.
"I think we should be very happy. We were pleasantly surprised because this morning I still thought we wouldn't get anything," Saakashvili said. "What we were offered before was an action plan for membership...guidelines how to get to MAP -- so it was all something like a preceding technical stage for eventual, possible, theoretic membership. And suddenly we jumped over the technical stage and they decided to accept Georgia and Ukraine as members."
Speaking the same day, Yushchenko also said the NATO commitment to full membership was better than he dared hope.
"This can only be seen as a victory, and I will explain why. It is because in today's document, for the first time, the 26 NATO members states formulated the basic principle that these countries (Ukraine and Georgia) will become members of NATO. I would say this even exceeded our expectations regarding this document."
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told RFE/RL in an interview that the former Communist countries of "new Europe" -- most notaby Poland -- were instrumental in getting the reluctant French and Germans to agree to a firm commitment for eventual Georgian and Ukrainian membership.
Washington Wish List
While enlargement dominated much of the summit, the United States could also claim victory on several other fronts.
In addition to winning a NATO endorsement for its controversial European missile-defense project -- which would place a radar station in the Czech Republic and a missile inteceptor base in Poland -- the United States also got key concessions from Russia and France that will help the Western alliance's troubled mission in Afghanistan.
France agreed to send a battalion to Afghanistan to relieve overstretched U.S. and Canadian forces.
Speaking at a press conference with Romanian President Traian Basescu on April 2, Bush expressed gratitude to his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy.
"I was very pleased to listen to the comments of President Sarkozy, where he indicated his willingness to increase troop presence," Bush said. "Other nations have agreed to step up, including Romania, and so we'll see how it goes. That's what summits are for. Summits are opportunities for people to make clear their intentions about how they intend to support this very important mission."
Russian President Vladimir Putin himself handed the United States a diplomatic victory by agreeing to allow for the transport of nonlethal military equipment across its territory to Afghanistan.
There are still some diplomatic conflicts on the horizon, both among NATO members and between the Western alliance and Russia.
NATO foreign ministers will revisit Ukraine and Georgia's bid for MAPs in December, and the two countries bids will certainly be on the table when the allies meet for NATO's 60th anniversary summit next spring.
Despite Putin's generally conciliatory tone in his press conference on April 4, the Russian leader also issued a stern warning to the trans-Atlantic alliance.
"The appearance on our borders of a powerful military bloc, whose members' actions are regulated, among other [documents], by Article 5 of the Washington [North Atlantic] Treaty, will be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country," Putin said. "And we cannot be satisfied with statements that this process is not aimed against Russia."