The outcome of a NATO Summit taking place on July 11-12 in Brussels brings new uncertainty and anxiety for Ukraine, coming ahead of a July 16 private meeting in Helsinki between U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump has already roiled the waters by sending out letters chastising NATO members for not spending enough on defense (2 percent of gross domestic product is the NATO standard that only five nations meet).
Trump, additionally, has created tensions by suggesting that he’d be open to recognizing Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, a development that would further weaken international rule of law.
The truth is that nody knows what Trump, who criticizes allies and praises Putin, will do — either in Brussels or Helsinki.
But the Kyiv Post asked several experts for their predictions and insights.
Alexander Vershbow, the former deputy Secretary general of NATO, is not expecting a momentous summit.
“The big question about the summit is what Donald Trump is going to do. Is he going primarily engage with incriminations of the issue of burden sharing? This can overshadow the importance of the alliance, the importance of alliance unity, the importance of an effective strategy in how we are dealing with Russia. If Trump keeps it in proportion and recognizes that NATO is an asset for the U.S., then it will be a happy meeting. But if he does not, it will be an unpleasant experience for all participants,” Vershbow said.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that, given the rocky G7 summit that recently took place in Canada, in which Trump refused to sign the final communique, all bets are off on the NATO Summit.
Harper said it’s “very difficult to predict what the dynamics are going to be between leaders at the summit, given what happened at the G7 and some other recent meetings.. I think, things are very uncertain in these days. I think the U.S. will remain in NATO, and NATO will survive. The U.S. has been a linchpin of NATO and it is very unclear where the Trump administration wants to go on this issue. We are in a period of great unclarity, great lack of clarity and only at the meeting we will know the outcome.”
Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expects that NATO will “demonstrate unity and solidarity, that NATO will not end up in a split between the U.S. and the rest of the allies. If that could be achieved, I think it will be a success itself,” Rasmussen said.
Against this background, at the second day of the summit, a meeting will take place between NATO allies and Ukraine and Georgia. It will be a departure from the usual format of the NATO-Ukraine Commission because NATO member Hungary is blocking high-level commission meetings over difference with Ukraine regarding its language policy.
Hungary is obstructing Ukraine’s Western integration in a dispute over a language law, part of Ukraine’s educational reform, that mandates that the Ukrainian language is taught in public schools. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban considers the measure discriminatory against the more than 100,000 ethnic Hungarians living mainly in southwestern Ukraine.
Despite meetings, Hungary insists that Ukraine is still discriminating against the Hungarian language and hasn’t satisfied its demands.
Vadym Prystaiko, head of the Ukrainian mission to NATO, said that the topic for the meeting of“NATO plus Georgia and Ukraine” is security, defense reform and cooperation.
This will “allow us to discuss a wide range of issues of security, including security in our own region, around Ukraine, within Ukraine, at the Crimea, on Black Sea, more or less everything we would like to discuss with allies, Prystaiko said. “The president (Petro Poroshenko) will be able to present what Ukraine is doing in the reform of defense, the security sector and cooperation, which means to take stock of what was done since the Warsaw summit on the so-called comprehensive assistance package. I’m sure that the president also will discuss the aspiration of Ukraine towards NATO membership, as we are approaching the 10th anniversary of the Bucharest summit where both nations, Georgia and Ukraine, were promised that one day they will become members of NATO,” Prystaiko said.
He underlined that “the most important outcome is NATO supporting Ukraine. We can discuss many things, but what is important for us is that NATO stands firmly with Ukraine and all messages will be repeated; like non-recognition of the illegal annexation of Crimea, on the aggression in the eastern part of Ukraine, where Russia will be called an aggressor, and I hope allies will be able to reiterate their position on sanctions introduced by countries – members of NATO and the European Union.
Ukraine hopes that NATO will grant Ukraine an Enhanced Opportunity Partnership to strengthen the interoperability among allies and key partners. This status is given to those partners who have most significantly contributed to NATO missions. For now, only five countries have the privileged designation: Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan and Sweden.
“I hope that NATO will decide to grant to Ukraine the status of the special operation partner. I hope it can be outcome,” Rasmussen also said.
So does Vershbow.
“I strongly advocated Enhanced Opportunity Partner status for Ukraine. I think it deserves it in terms of criteria for the program when it was established four years ago. Ukraine has been one of the best contributors to NATO operations. It carries out very serious defense reforms, contributes to the NATO response force and, of course, it is being tested in battle on the ground in Donbass every day and, I think, it will be mutual beneficial to the alliance to have greater interaction with Ukrainian armed forces. Extra opportunities comes with this program,” he said.
Vershbow also said Ukraine’s aspirant status is “more a question of symbolism than anything else.”
When asked about about Membership Action Plan for Ukraine, a forerunner to ultimate membership, Vershbow said the status is “not realistic at this time and it is not really necessary. There is sensitivity about Russia. That is the answer. But it also not really needed at this time. Ukraine has to carry out reforms. It already has the tools to get closer to membership. It has the Annual National Program and hopefully will have Enhanced Opportunity Partnership.”
At the same time, Vershbow said that “without U.S. advocacy it will not happen at this summit. It will happen some day but it will be a missed opportunity at this summit. Ukraine has to do its homework, prepare itself to be a strong candidate and then push the issue of membership when it is more ready than it is today.
Prystaiko, the head of the Ukrainian mission to NATO, said he doesn’t know if Ukraine will gain the Enhanced Opportunity Partner status.
“We as a partner are not allowed at the table,” Prystaiko said. “What we are hearing that there is no consensus as of now. But, as you know, we are looking for membership.”