Nataliya Halibarenko, Ukraine's Envoy to NATO
Ukraine’s potential NATO membership will meet best interests of both Ukraine and the Alliance
24.05.2024 09:34

The aggravation of the situation on Ukrainian frontlines, along with the upcoming NATO 75th anniversary Washington summit, set for July, have increased attention by the Ukrainian people to Kyiv's relations with the Alliance. Ukraine's ability to continue resistance to Russian war of aggression, to troubleshoot and build a modernized army capable of preventing the threat of a future war of aggression like this, not only against Ukraine, but against all of Europe, depends on the dynamics of these relations. Ambassador Nataliya Halibarenko, Ukraine's Envoy to NATO spoke to Ukrinform to explain how NATO and Allies view the current situation in Ukraine, what motivates them to support our country, and what impact the decisions to be made at the Washington Summit can have for us.


- Mrs. Ambassador, Ukraine’s prime concern currently is a new attempt by the Russian aggressor to advance deeper into the Kharkiv Region, to increase pressure on other axes of the frontline. How is the situation on the Ukrainian battlefield perceived here at the Alliance’s Headquarters?

- Indeed, NATO and the Allies are closely monitoring how the situation is developing in Ukraine. Meetings of the NATO Military Committee and the NATO-Ukraine Council (NUC) have just taken place in Brussels, at which the Ukrainian side was represented by the Chief of the General Staff, General Barhylevych (Major General Anatoliy Barhylevych, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine since February 9, 2024, - ed).

The general assessment of the situation was given by the commander-in-chief of NATO forces in Europe, General [Christopher] Cavoli, who noted, in particular, that the Alliance currently views Russia's advance in Kharkiv Region as a local success. That is, there is no talk of any strategic breakthroughs - Russia does not have sufficient capabilities to achieve this goal. It is clear that this assessment should be perceived through the dynamics of events.

In my opinion, it is also important that, while doing this analysis, NATO and Allies realize that they bear  part of responsibility for what is now happening on the battlefield. They openly talk about it, in particular, that the half-year delay in American aid has caused a critical shortage of ammunition at the frontline. This is exactly what the Russian forces had taken advantage of in order to seize the initiative just at the time where Ukraine had been forced to save its ammunition reserves and to defend and hold its defense lines for six consecutive months.

The good news is that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been able to bring to a halt this Russian assault.  We are in constant contact with our NATO allies to receive operational information from them and to let them know what our potential responses to Russian troop movements might be.

NATO's assessment of the situation, in my opinion, is realistic. We used this NUC meeting not only to brief the Allies about the current situation, but also to communicate our needs to them. So General Barhylevych outlined what our immediate needs are like now and what they will be like in the medium term. He emphasized that Ukraine’s first priority is the supply of air defense capabilities. This issue is raised constantly, and it needs a quick solution.


- Germany has recently announced its intention to search across the world for Patriot interceptor missiles in order to supply them to Ukraine. Has something already been done about this?

- After the NUC meeting, which was held at the level of defense ministers in April, where President Zelensky addressed a speech to the NATO ministers, it was announced that Germany had decided to supply Ukraine with one more Patriot system. We continue with this work at all levels, but this, I must admit, isn’t that easy. Far from all NATO countries have Patriot systems, which we need to shoot down Russian ballistic targets. Those countries that do have Patriots, in addition to the United States, have very few such systems and are forced to look at their capabilities from the perspective of own national security, the political situation in their respective countries and, in some of them, upcoming elections.

But we have some progress, however. I can't talk about it in detail, but some countries are expressing a potential willingness to provide Patriot systems to Ukraine. They, of course, are deliberating on what to replace these systems with, and we should also take this into account.



- We are approaching the first anniversary of the Ukraine-NATO Council. How useful was this mechanism, in particular, in providing Ukraine with ammunition and air defense equipment?

- During this year, the NUC has proved its effectiveness as a platform for dialogue and joint decision-making between Ukraine and NATO. It is important for us that we ourselves can launch initiatives to convene such meetings when and where necessary. We have already done so several times. For example, after Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, we were coordinating measures to avoid the risk of a blackout in the country. An extraordinary NUC meeting regarding the supply of ammunition and air defense equipment was convened on April 19 at an initiative by President Zelensky.

For me, it is important that the NATO-Ukraine Council allows for joint decision-making in a dialogue with the Allies. According to the previous established practice, the Alliance used to adopt documents --statements or resolutions -- unilaterally. Now these issues are all resolved exclusively through a dialogue, where each and every NUC member is listened to and heard.

We hope that this kind of a dialogue will be there at Washington, too, where the Head of State will arrive to attend the highest-level NUC meeting. We expect that a relevant political document will be adopted at the end of the meeting, and Ukraine will be a party to talks on a draft summit statement.


- Did the Ukrainian side, during NUC meetings, raise the issue of potentially setting up an anti-aircraft "security corridor" along Ukraine’s western border with the help of neighboring NATO countries? We have seen incidents where Russian missiles and drones ended up, for example, in Poland or Romania...

- Such a proposal was spoken out, we discussed it at certain times with partners, but no final decision has yet been made. Individual Allies are concerned that intercepting incoming Russian missiles with air defense missiles launched from their territory into Ukrainian airspace may be viewed as that country’s entry into the war, with all the ensuing consequences for the Alliance as a whole.

We, indeed, offer our own arguments, since we are talking about Ukrainian airspace and Ukrainian territory. We even proposed deploying western Patriot systems on Ukraine’s western border so that they could work in both directions, protecting Ukrainian territory and, say, Polish territory. If the Alliance is not ready to take this step, the only way out is for it to provide Ukraine with the air defense capabilities it needs.


- During his recent visit to Kyiv, US Secretary of State, [Anthony] Blinken stated that Ukraine should not feel alone and decide by itself how this war should be waged. But then followed a statement by the Pentagon that the weapons the U.S. is supplying to Ukraine should not be used against targets outside of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. How can these statements be balanced out?

- Blinken's statement (and he reiterated it twice) that it’s up to Ukraine itself to choose targets, arose hopes for a change in the U.S. policy on that matter: Ukraine should be independent in deciding on which territories it uses this or that Western weapon, especially American. But then the Pentagon had come up with quite an opposite statement.

I would say it thus: at all the meetings and negotiations, the Ukrainian side has always insisted that Russia's war in Ukraine makes us fully empowered to attack targets on its territory. Even more, we never attack civilians or residential buildings, as the Russians do. Regarding the targets for Ukrainian attacks, these are invariably the facilities involved with the production or transportation of armaments, military airfields and other similar targets. We, being a self-defending party, are fully in our right to do so. Several countries, such as Great Britain, have rightly determined that we do have such right.

A decision permitting Ukraine to use American supplied weapons against targets outside of Ukraine will have to be made, sooner or later. It is a pity that we are wasting time, looking for solutions that will not be open to doubt. But we will continue to promote and push it forward.


- Much buzzing has been going on recently about a statement by French President, Emmanuel Macron that he is ready to dispatch French troops to Ukraine under certain circumstances. This idea has found support with some individual countries, while others have spoken emphatically against it. How is that matter viewed among the Allies? Is it possible to create a "coalition of goodwill" to ensure direct military support for Ukraine?

- The Alliance currently does not yet have a common vision with respect to such an idea. After it had been publicly announced by the President of France, the NATO Secretary General said in a statement that there is no relevant consensus within NATO. They are not ready or willing to take this step, and even less so as Ukraine has never requested NATO troops to be deployed on its soil.

That being said, however, some of the NATO countries are expressing different views when talking at a bilateral level. There are countries that say that they are ready and willing in principle to make decisions to deploy their military personnel [to Ukraine], if, for example, such a decision is made at the NATO level. Others are saying they are willing to debate this initiative even without NATO’s decision, but they add a reservation that the potential deployment would involve, speaking hypothetically, instructors rather than armed units.

By the way, we have repeatedly raised the issue with Allies about sending Western instructors to Ukraine.  Because the effectiveness of training depends largely on where the training takes place geographically. We would like very much to have this training and education conducted on the Ukrainian soil. Let it be, speaking hypothetically, a location in the vicinity of our western border, but on our territory. This could simplify a lot in terms of logistics.

Therefore, this debate continues. This war has broken lots of taboos existing among our Western allies.

Indeed, we have never demanded that NATO deploy its [military] units on our territory. The deal was simple: we are fighting, and you are helping us  - with money, weapons, equipment, etc. Are they helping us? Yes. Could they help better? Yes again! We have to put such uncomfortable questions on the table. The aggravation of the situation in Kharkiv Region has been caused precisely by the fact that not everything promised by the partners has arrived in Ukraine. The current situation on the frontline perfectly reflects, among other things, who and how were fulfilling their promises.


- During his visit to Kyiv, the NATO Secretary General made a pretty high-profile statement to the effect that Ukraine is unlikely to be able to receive an invitation to join NATO at the Washington Summit, this because of opposition from individual Allies. Can we expect any surprises at Washington?

- The Secretary General, actually, communicates the situation and the vision that has been set by the Alliance. I can confirm that there is currently no political consensus in NATO regarding the invitation for Ukraine to join NATO, which requires each and every of the 32 member states to give their "Yes" to such an invitation.

- Can the situation on the battlefield affect the formation of such a consensus?

- I think it is possible. Many of our allies in NATO say they generally support an invitation for Ukraine. They are confident that Ukraine's accession to NATO will benefit both the Alliance and Ukraine, and will enhance  the security of the entire Euro-Atlantic community.

At the same time, even they are saying that a decision approving Ukraine's accession to NATO is impossible for as long as as the war continues. But when the war ends - and it will end, sooner or later - this potentiality can  become a reality. Therefore, yes, not all Allies agree to our entry at this stage. But this does not relieve us of the task of moving toward this goal. We still have to fight for it and push our partners to take this step.

The reasoning behind the vision we are defending at the Alliance is very simple. This is enshrined as a priority in our Constitution. Eighty percent of the Ukrainian people are favoring Ukraine’s accession to NATO, and no one can force them into abandoning this ambition just because there is no political consensus among the Allies. Governments change, politicians change, and this war will come to an end some day. Then a favorable situation will develop that will enable a decision to be made on Ukraine's accession.


- NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg is ending his ten-year tenure in this position. But it was he who came up with an initiative for NATO to move to a long-term, multi-year strategy of support for Ukraine, this involving mandatory financial contributions from each of the allied countries. Will this initiative be able to endure a reshuffle among the NATO leadership?

-  Proposals about how to improve coordination in the provision of both lethal and non-lethal aid to Ukraine come not only from the Secretary General’s initiative. It is also the result of the collective thinking by the Allies. A great deal of work is being done by the American side as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG), but there is also a clear vision set that NATO, as an organization, should increase its role, take on more responsibility for matters related to coordination of aid for Ukraine, and training of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

It is important that, along with the implementation of immediate tasks, the Alliance aims at a strategic approach. NATO seeks a more active role in reforming and modernizing our Armed Forces, in facilitating their transition to the use of modern Western weapons. Given the current realities and the war situation, this task is designed to take years.

Jens Stoltenberg assesses the scope of these tasks quite realistically. That is why he came up with the idea, which, at the beginning, included the appropriation of USD 100 billion for Ukraine over the next five years.  That is, he offered the allies to make a political commitment to provide USD 20 billion every a year to help Ukraine.

This issue is now under discussion. Specific figures have not yet been announced. But what is important is that work continues to identify a formula that will calculate the amount of money each allied country will have to contribute to this future fund for Ukraine.

Today it is too early to predict whether such a formula will be there. But we can only applaud this principle where all allies should equally help Ukraine, in proportion to the size of their respective economies and the strength of their armed forces. Whether it will be a specific percentage of GDP or something else, we will see during the discussion. But the very idea of a sustained financial aid for Ukraine is necessary for NATO to play such a coordinating role.


- The European Union openly expresses concern about whether the US will be able to play as big a role in the European security system as it is playing now, following the outcomes of internal political processes and the upcoming presidential elections. The EU announces a course towards strengthening European defense capability and the European component of NATO. Will such processes cause a certain erosion in the unity of NATO?

- I think that it is just the opposite. Certain fears often give a push to more progressive decisions made. When, for example, the American aid was delayed for six months, the Alliance was actively involved in the process of increasing support for Ukraine. Allies understand: it is necessary to support Ukraine because this meets their own best interests. After all, Ukraine is located in Europe, its security immediately affects the security of NATO allies in Europe.

Likewise, the idea of increasing NATO's role in supporting Ukraine emerged as a "plan B" to make sure that aid for Ukraine would not depend on the current political situation. Under these conditions, I believe that it is precisely the institutional role of NATO, the Alliance’s long-term commitment for five or ten years that should ensure the continuity of assistance coming to Ukraine.

And one more consideration: in the conditions of Russia’s war in Ukraine, our partners from the Alliance are devoting much more attention to their own security. Previously, defense spending of 2 percent of GDP was a problem for many of them, but now this level of defense spending is seen as a starting point. Some allied countries, such as Poland, are already spending more than 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Therefore, the strengthening of solidarity within NATO reflects the understanding that everyone in the Alliance, without exception, should invest in their own security, make their own contributions, and not just rely on the United States of America.



- Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, likewise its expansion that is aimed against neighboring countries, have brought humanity back to the era of territorial disputes, which seemed to have long gone into the past. This has fundamentally changed the nature of war and the very structure of international security. How does NATO view such a new security structure?

- The Alliance has updated its vision of the security and defense strategy, this was its initial response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. In 2022, the Allies adopted an updated Strategic Concept, which for the first time recognized Russia as the main threat to the security of the Alliance, outlined changes in the policy of deterrence and the need for strengthening NATO's eastern flank. The entry of Sweden and Finland into the Alliance, in actual fact, was in response to Russia's aggressive actions.

In addition to conceptual documents, there is a concept such as technical and technological readiness to confront a potent enemy like the Russian Federation. The war in Ukraine has revealed a lack of capacity in the Alliance countries, particularly as it regards the production of ammunition. Certain Allies have "opened their eyes" to the need for having an air defense capability of their own, which was thought to be unnecessary previously, because they relied on protection from NATO.

The situation is such that every European country must be ready, if necessary, to defend itself and its allies. If you answer this question honestly - and some ministers have already done so, in particular, in Germany - such technological and technical readiness for resisting an external aggression is a challenge for the Alliance.

Наталья Галибаренко


- Do the NATO Allies realize that, if Ukraine falls, they will be the next targets?

- It must be admitted that the perception of Russia as an existential threat differs among members of the Alliance. The countries on NATO’s eastern flank are extremely worried, fully understanding the scope of the potential Russian threat. These countries had already suffered from this in the past, they know from their own experience what the Russian invasion is like.

The further to the west, the more Russia is perceived as a hybrid threat – relating to cyber security, misinformation, and even interference in internal political processes and elections. But these countries do not feel a threat of a direct attack from Russia, a threat to the state’s existence and of the elimination of its people. Russia is not perceived that way there. I think that politicians in these countries should not forget that, if tomorrow, God forbid, citizens of Poland will begin to be killed, it will have consequences for the citizens of Portugal as well as for all other allied countries. Everyone should stand up for each other, this is the essence of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty [on collective defense]. If this principle does not work, then the whole system of collective defense and protection, on which the Alliance is built, will be destroyed.

- But will we win?

- We will win, indeed. We all need to work together for this to happen.

Dmytro Shkurko, Brussels

Photo: via NATO press service/Suspilne Credit

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