BRUSSELS -- Ukraine made history this week by becoming the first non-NATO-member state to contribute forces to the alliance's flagship NATO Response Force (NRF).
The Ukrainian contribution to the force reflects the strains operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans have put on NATO budgets and manpower. It does not represent a real advance towards formal alliance membership.
The chairman of NATO's military committee, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, today said Ukraine would be providing useful niche capabilities.
"Kyiv is the first -- but not the only -- partner which has made an offer for the NRF. [It is] a very [significant] offer because [it is] a very [specialized] offer, what we call an 'enabler,' like a CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] unit, like transport," Di Paola said.
"Strategic transport has always been a critical capacity. We are welcoming very much that contribution."
The Ukrainian units will form part of the response force in 2010 and 2011. They will remain on standby in Ukraine.
Di Paola said today the force would be capable of carrying out NATO's mutual defense commitment without recourse to the Ukrainian contribution.
NATO also revived military ties with Russia. Russian Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov attended the first top-level NATO-Russia military meeting since mid-2008.
Di Paola said NATO wanted to "press the practical reset button," while warning that a full resumption of ties would take time:
"If you go to switch on your car after it's been in your garage for one year, you don't go full speed, you start [by] switching [it] on, turning the key, heating up, and then you keep moving," Di Paola said. "That's where we are."
An agreement on military-to-military cooperation was signed. A "work plan" for concrete military cooperation will follow in May 2010.
Above all, what brings NATO and Russia together is Afghanistan. Russia already plays a role in the air and overland transit of NATO goods to the country. NATO is also looking for Russian help in maintaining Afghanistan's sizeable fleet of Soviet-built helicopters and fighter planes.
NATO officials quoted Makarov as saying Russia had a greater interest in Afghanistan's stability than the alliance itself.
Di Paola said only a "comprehensive" approach combining capable Afghan security forces with a competent government in Kabul could turn the country around.
The international conference in London on January 28 is expected to provide guidelines for this.
But Di Paola said the five-hour discussion of Afghanistan this morning ended on an optimistic note. "There was a feeling in the room we are getting it right," he said.
"The mood has changed, the tide has changed: we will succeed, we are convinced we will succeed."