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The end of non-aligned status? Ukraine

December 9, 2014

Tomorrow, 9th December 2014, seems likely to be the date that the new RADA in Ukraine will vote upon the formal removal of Ukraine’s non-aligned status – a significant hurdle to attempting to  join any military block either east or west.

Whether it be a priority in comparison to the removal of MP immunity, of which almost the entire voting constituency of Ukraine is in favour, or a pending change in electoral laws that would remove the endemic corruption and bribery associated with the single mandate, first past the post, RADA seats to be replaced by open party lists, or if it will be seen as a timely tabling of legislation when the entire nation expects a radical reform of the judicial system and a move from rule by law to one of rule of law, is a matter for debate.

However, it cannot be said that any such change in the Ukrainian non-aligned status has gone without some public debate – naturally under the circumstances Ukraine finds itself in.

Opinion polls/surveys regarding the accession to NATO have moved from a solid majority against, to a slim majority for such a move.  Another effect from the Kremlin cause in eastern Ukraine, and illegal annexation of Crimea.   Such a reaction, be it deemed knee-jerk or ill-conceived by those who would prefer the geopolitical status quo to continue, is at least somewhat understandable.  Few that find themselves unquestionably violated twice in quick succession by the same aggressor, would not seek the removal of their own legislation that prevents themselves from trying to find future safety and assistance within the combined weight of numbers that such organisations present.

It goes without saying that the removal of this legislation tomorrow – if passed – does not lead to NATO Membership any time soon (if at all).

Ukraine is a long, long way from meeting any NATO Membership criteria.  At an absolute minimum, Ukraine would need to demonstrate it can uphold a tolerant and inclusive democracy, make solid progress toward a market economy, have its military forces under firm civilian control, be good neighbours with regard to the territorial integrity of other sovereign states, and be robustly working toward the compatibility of its forces with those existing within NATO.

Then the NATO Members would need to agree to Ukraine joining.  That in turn means a Ukraine policy amongst its members – a policy that is clearly absent other than a begrudging lip-service acknowledging the fact the door is open to those that meet necessary criteria.

Nonetheless, whether or not Ukraine ever meets any such criteria, or meets with the approval of all existing NATO Members when it comes to any accession if it were to actually apply, clearly to achieve that it would need to remove the self-imposed shackles of non-alignment currently enshrined within its own legislation.  That is the issue that will be tackled by the RADA.  A case of opening up that opportunity – to Kremlin angst (as well as a few NATO Members) – or not.

At the same time, unlikely as it is, such a move also opens up the opportunity to join the CSTO.

The relevant Bill is likely to be submitted by the Prime Minister’s party, the People’s Front.  In a speech to the RADA on 27th November, President Poroshenko also stated Ukraine should abandon its non-aligned status.  Thus it seems unlikely this Bill will fail if submitted tomorrow, as is the current rumour.

Whether by removing the nation’s non-aligned status, it improves the current interaction between NATO and some of its Members currently assisting Ukraine remains to be seen.  The NATO position is that it supports supporting Ukraine – bilaterally amongst its Members first and foremost, due to the usual lack of consensus within its ranks.   If such a move would encourage the allies Ukraine clearly has amongst the NATO Members to do more bilaterally once non-aligned status has been removed will be interesting to behold.

It is more than likely that The Kremlin will bemoan and lament any such removal of Ukrainian non-aligned status – regardless of the fact that NATO Membership will remain a very distant prospect (if at all) for Ukraine.  However, given the slim majority of the Ukrainian constituency now in favour of NATO Membership, there is obviously a large minority amongst which Kremlin agitprop/disinformation/misinformation will attempt to weave its dark magic.

Regardless of whether this Bill is submitted before the RADA tomorrow or not, that it will be very soon seems certain.  Reactions both externally and internally of Ukraine will be interesting.

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