July 2020

By Sally A. Painter


Over the years, relations between NATO and Ukraine have been trying and complicated. Perhaps the lowest point in recent memory was at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 when NATO refused to offer a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Ukraine over the objections of the Bush Administration and despite its strong domestic support in country. Ukraine's move to Euro-Atlantic integration was stymied and NATO lost credibility on its open door policy. Worse—Russia took this as a sign that NATO had lost its commitment to new entrants and invaded Crimea and the Donbass with limited consequences.

However, on June 12, 2020, this strategic mistake was somewhat corrected when NATO recognized Ukraine as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner, an important development for both the Alliance and Ukraine as it demonstrates that NATO continues to evolve. More importantly, it rewards Ukraine for its long standing cooperation in Afghanistan and Kosovo, as well as its strong contributions to the NATO Response Force and NATO exercises.

While a significant development, full integration requires that the government take a number of important steps, including adopting a new law on the security services as well as new laws on intelligence and state procurements, among other things. This is a time when strong transatlanticists on both sides of the Atlantic need to step up and embrace this development encouraging the Zelinski Administration to take advantage of the new opportunity by demonstrating its further commitment to the West.

NATO member states for their part must support and encourage these actions. It also gives us an opportunity to think about alternative structures given that NATO accession is not currently possible. Some creative ideas include: The Three Seas Initiative and Bucharest Nine Group could be asked to include Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova; and Poland, the Baltic States, and other close friends of Kyiv could be encouraged to conclude mutual aid pacts with Ukraine similar to Turkey’s 2010 partnership agreement with Azerbaijan. Additionally, Washington could extend its bilateral strategic partnership charters with Kyiv and Tbilisi to a multilateral format comparable to the older Baltic and Adriatic Charters.

This is the time to work together to take advantage of a new dynamic working toward "the art of the possible."