To continue successfully the course of integration into the Euro-Atlantic space of security and effective response to the hybrid war that is waged by the Russian Federation, Ukraine should quickly do its homework - to create an effective mechanism for the implementation of a comprehensive assistance package adopted at the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Acting Head of the Mission of Ukraine to NATO Yehor Bozhok told in exclusive interview with an Ukrinform correspondent in Brussels about achievement of criteria for NATO membership and a possible intermediate status of the state on this way.
- In late August, Ukrainian President Ukraine Petro Poroshenko held his annual meeting with ambassadors who head Ukrainian diplomatic missions abroad. In it, the President set out specific tasks for Ukrainian diplomats to promote and protect the national interests of Ukraine. Please remind us what the President emphasized in the work of the Ukrainian Mission to NATO, and what are the main priorities and objectives set out in the new political season in the conditions of the hybrid war unleashed by Russia?
- The main domestic and foreign policy course taken by Ukraine today is European and Euro-Atlantic integration. This course is viewed by the state in synergy, as these are interconnected processes. Euro-Atlantic integration is not possible without European integration, and vice versa. Why? European integration is a whole range of issues related to socio-economic and political spheres, while Euro-Atlantic it is the same questions plus defense and the security sector. Thus, full integration into the European space is only possible once European and Euro-Atlantic standards have been attained. This is now one of Ukraine’s priorities.
But now, finally, we have started to approach this issue carefully and pragmatically, concentrating not on political slogans, and on getting real results. And talk of "applying for NATO membership" or "urgent need for us to become a NATO member" was put aside as being too early and without grounds. Nor does speculation on the NATO membership Action Plan provide any added value. After all, we have all the tools necessary to properly prepare for NATO membership for reform of Ukraine in accordance with the required standards. We need to focus on this work. And in this we have absolutely unprecedented and very significant support from NATO. Today, we have the Annual National Programme, which is the practical part of the Action Plan for NATO membership and a powerful institution of NATO advisers present in Ukraine. At the Warsaw Summit in July we received a comprehensive package of assistance which is a unique NATO tool for giving consultative tool, practical, logistical and financial support to partner countries for the implementation of tasks in the field of European integration. This package covers 40 areas of assistance, mainly oriented to the security sector, including 8 NATO trust funds targeted for Ukraine.
The Warsaw Summit was historic not only for NATO but also for Ukraine and our relations with the Alliance. You know that Ukraine is the only NATO partner country which, within the confines of the summit, had a separate meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the highest level. In fact, the results of this meeting enabled us to complete formation of the complete set of political and practical tools for us to effectively implement our Euro-Atlantic integration course in full. In the medium term our "homework" is to attain the security sector standards of a NATO member state by 2020. And the Alliance is helping us more and more in this.
So, today we have a fully-fledged base for quite successfully moving towards our strategic goal, that of attaining all the criteria for NATO membership. We now need to work hard on this in a systematic way.
NATO RETAINS A FIRM AND CLEAR POSITION ON ITS SUPPORT OF UKRAINE
- President Poroshenko also put special onus on consolidating diplomatic efforts in standing up to Russian aggression...
- A paramount task of the diplomatic service, including the Mission of Ukraine to NATO, remains confronting Russian aggression, consolidation of Euro-Atlantic unity on the issue of support for Ukraine and the continuation of political and economic pressure on the aggressor in order to force him back into the framework of international law.
Yes, unfortunately, there has recently been some rocking in Western political circles regarding policy towards Russia. This helps aggressive Russian propaganda, and certain fatigue from the hybrid war unleashed by Moscow as well as the work of the Russian special services in mobilizing protesting electorate, radical forces, the corrupting of European politicians for undermining unity in support of Ukraine in the EU and NATO. But despite the best efforts of the Kremlin machine, for more than two years the Western world has been united in its support for Ukraine, and the rejection as well as non-recognition of aggressive actions by the Russian Federation.
NATO retains a firm and clear position on its unquestioning support of Ukraine, continuing to pressure Russia to compel her to return to the framework of international law.
UKRAINE IS ABLE TO PROTECT ITSELF BUT NATO CAN GIVE WEAPONS IN CASE OF ESCALATION
- You are probably bored of hearing this question, if we can say this. How can we evaluate the current mood among our Alliance partners on the issue of military-technical cooperation with Ukraine? Can we believe that some member states have “matured” on the topic of giving Ukraine lethal weapons?
- My approach is such: it is better not to feed with fish but give bait and teach fishing. This is the modern philosophy of our practical cooperation with NATO on the issue of raising the defense capability of Ukraine. Yes, lethal weapons are important. But we must look deeper into the roots. Over the past two years, our ability to provide ourselves with weapons has increased several fold, and this is obvious progress.
The issue here is the degree of aggression. Today, Ukraine is able to protect itself, to counter Russian aggression on the current. We continue to systematically expand our defense capabilities with the support of NATO. But of course, if there were to be significant escalation in future, the issue of providing military assistance to Ukraine will be seen through a different prism by NATO. And here we cannot exclude radical solutions, right up to providing Ukraine with lethal weapons as defense against aggression.
- Continuing the topic of practical cooperation with partners: what training exercises involving the Ukrainian military are planned to be held in 2017?
- Ten exercises were planned for this year. Six in Ukraine and four abroad. We try not to miss a single maneuver where we are invited, and which allow us to participate in operational and tactical circumstances in the context of opposition to Russian aggression. After all, objectively, we are not always able to send our troops abroad as Russia continues to increase its military groups in Ukraine and on the border with Ukraine.
At the same time, I want to emphasize that next year at least the same number of exercises is planned under NATO auspices or in cooperation with selected allies. Agreement on this plan is currently being reached.
I also want to remind you that in Ukraine there are currently instructors from the US, Canada, Great Britain and Lithuania, which assist in training new Ukrainian military personnel. Those efforts which we have made together with the Ministry of Defense, the General Staff, our partners from the headquarters and the Command of NATO special operations forces, have already brought results.
ABOUT 500 UKRAINIAN SERVICEMEN HAVE UNDERGONE TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION IN NATO COUNTRIES
- How the cooperation with NATO partner countries is developing on the issue of treatment and rehabilitation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers? How many soldiers have undergone treatment, and how many are planned to be sent for treatment?
- We can positively note this sector of cooperation. As of today, about 500 Ukrainian servicepersons have undergone treatment and rehabilitation in NATO countries, as well as continue receiving treatment. At present another 15 soldiers are on our current list, which was distributed among NATO member states. They [servicepersons] are the representatives of all law enforcement agencies of Ukraine. Hungary has already accepted for treatment four of them. We will discuss with member states the issue regarding other eleven [soldiers]. We monitor this issue at NATO Headquarters every day.
- What is the situation on the implementation of Trust Funds programs? What is the process of their financing from the side of our partners from NATO member states?
- At present Ukraine has eight specialized NATO Trust Funds. Their goal is to assist Ukraine in reforming security and defense sector and resolving urgent critical issues. This concerns the Trust Fund to reform the system of logistics and standardization of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We should separately note the Trust Fund to reform the system of command and management, which now applies not only to the Armed Forces, but also other components of the security and defense sector, in particular, the National Guard, the State Border Service and the Office of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. Then there is the Medical Rehabilitation Trust Fund on heightening Ukraine’s national capabilities in this sphere. The work is carried out in two directions here: the development of our national capabilities in the sphere of medical rehabilitation of soldiers and prosthetics of wounded Ukrainian soldiers abroad.
The fourth Trust Fund is aimed at developing capabilities of Ukraine in the sphere of cyber defense. Now we are completing the first phase of this program implementation. The fifth Trust The Fund is engaged in the disposal of safe radioactive waste left since the time of the former USSR.
The next Trust Fund promotes social adaptation of servicemen transferred to the reserve - from military to civilian careers. Within this Trust Fund, many training courses for retraining have been created.
The Trust Fund on disposal of obsolete ammunition is the oldest trust which operates since 2004. At present, of course, we have no spare ammunition, but obsolete ammunition that carries a threat must be destructed.
Slovakia became in charge of the eighth Trust Fund at the NATO Warsaw Summit. The Fund is aimed at developing the system of mine clearance and improvised explosive devices disposal in Ukraine.
UKRAINE IS ABLE TO ENSURE STRATEGIC NATO AIR TRANSPORTATION WITHOUT RUSSIA
- NATO suspended practical cooperation with the country-aggressor – Russia. What about the continuation of Ukraine’s participation in the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS) Program, but without the Russian side?
- Ukraine at the highest political level has decided to suspend the cooperation with Russia in the framework of the next phase of the SALIS program. The Alliance has announced a tender for the next stage of the SALIS program implementation, starting from January 2017. Despite of the intensive lobbying efforts by the Russian side, Ukrainian state company "Antonov Airlines" participates in this tender.
The position of the Ukrainian side, which I stress is shared by NATO, is clear: with increasing aggressiveness and unpredictability of the Russian side, it is illogical, impossible and impractical to cooperate with the Russian Federation on the issues of strategic air transportation, which are sensitive in terms of security.
The Ukrainian state company "Antonov Airlines" can independently ensure all the needs of Alliance in the sphere of strategic air transportation. We are sure of this.
SBU TO BE REFORMED IN LINE WITH NATO STANDARDS
- What visits by Ukrainians officials to NATO Headquarters are planned for the near future?
- We have a busy schedule. Our agenda includes an active high-level political dialogue. We’re planning to hold a meeting of the NATO – Ukraine Commission by the end of September. The Ukrainian side will be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Vadym Prystayko. The meeting will be focused on the security situation in Ukraine and development of "Normandy format" in the Minsk process. We constantly exchange this information with NATO on a daily basis in the format of political, military, intelligence contacts. The second issue of the scheduled meeting will concern the implementation of decisions approved at the Warsaw Summit.
Also, by the end of September we’re planning a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Joint Working Group on Defense Reform. We will discuss two elements of comprehensive efforts in reforming the security and defense sector – reforming the Defense Ministry of Ukraine, as well as reforming the Security Service of Ukraine. We include the SBU reform in the course of our cooperation with NATO. The next step is to reform the National Guard and the State Border Service in line with NATO standards. The preparatory work in this direction is being carried out.
The second issue to be considered at this meeting is the launch of the Ukraine-NATO platform to study the peculiarities of a hybrid war unleashed by Russia. The decision on establishing this platform was also approved at the NATO Warsaw Summit. The platform is expected to start its activities as soon as this year. We expect from the Ukrainian side the project will be coordinated by Director of the National Institute for Strategic Studies Volodymyr Horbulin. Gradually, other Ukrainian and international experts, including from the non-governmental sector will join this platform.
ABOUT OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE MOST COMPATIBLE PARTNERS
- Ukraine will not submit an application for NATO membership before 2020. Today, our level of cooperation with the Alliance is that of "special partnership." Can we consider other, more intense versions of our state’s partnership with the military-political bloc, as an intermediate step to Ukraine acquiring full membership of NATO?
- If we talk about the criteria for Ukraine acquiring NATO membership, the first is that of reaching certain standards. This issue has not yet been resolved. Therefore, the discussion of other issues - political and security conditions, support from allies is just inappropriate at the moment and has no sense. But in parallel we need to gradually build confidence and strengthen ties with the Alliance in the security field. And to at least get to the level that Sweden and Finland are at.
Andriy Lavrenyuk, Brussels