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8th Ukraine Breakfast Debate: Ukraine’s approach towards NATO: pre-electoral tool or strategic security objective?

The eighth Ukraine Breakfast Debate within the project “Platform for Analytics and Inter­cul­tural Commu­ni­cation” (PAIC) took place on October 31, 2018 at the Institute for European Politics in Berlin. Ruslan Kermach from the Ilko Kucheriv Democ­ratic Initia­tives Foundation presented on the topic “Ukraine’s approach towards NATO: pre-electoral tool or strategic security objective”.

As first overview, Ruslan Kermach outlined the main corner­stones of Ukraine’s rapprochement towards NATO since its indepen­dence in 1991. Despite some key devel­op­ments in the country’s rapprochement to NATO until 2014, Kermach argued that this approx­i­mation process had been consid­erably incoherent due to the highly diverging opinions and strategies within the Ukrainian political elite on this issue. A long-term opinion poll which has been regularly conducted between 2007 and 2018 on Ukraine’s public stance towards its security policy orien­tation shows clearly that a non-bloc status was the most favoured option prior to the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. However, this opinion severely dimin­ished in the aftermath of the revolution which can be associated with the annex­ation of Crimea by the Russian Feder­ation as well as by the outbreak of the ongoing armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Corre­spond­ingly, the support for an alignment with an Eurasian security vector fell sharply and has been sinking gradually ever since whereas a growing support for Euro-Atlantic integration is observable since 2014.

Subse­quently, Kermach shed light on the regional differ­ences within the support for NATO integration and stressed that a clear cleavage between the Western regions of Ukraine and the Eastern and Southern ones can be observed. According to the polls, the Western regions favour more strongly a joining of NATO while the South-Eastern regions stand in majority behind a non-aligned status. In the light of the upcoming elections in 2019, Kermach under­lined that the topic of NATO-integration will most likely not play a decisive role in the electoral campaigns. However, he stressed that this question could be poten­tially instru­men­talised in the regions which are supportive of Euro-Atlantic cooper­ation. Furthermore, related to the presi­dential elections it is highly unlikely that a candidate will oppose the general Euro-Atlantic integration process in Ukraine. In the event of a related refer­endum (which was announced by Poroshenko in 2017), more than two thirds of respon­dents indicated that they would vote in favour of the country’s NATO accession. Despite these positive figures, Kermach pointed out the signif­icant mobilization force of political adver­saries that are not favouring a further NATO rapprochement. Furthermore, Kermach regretted the lack of public awareness and knowledge on NATO and its general organ­i­sa­tional and decision-making struc­tures, and highlighted the need for coherent infor­mation campaigns in the regions. That must in particular be the case, as NATO accession, according to Kermach, is the “only viable security option for Ukraine at the current stage”, due to the country’s geopo­litical situation. In the following discussion, the partic­i­pants of the Ukraine Breakfast Debate were mainly inter­ested in NATO’s interest in the rapprochement with Ukraine as well as the willingness of specific NATO member states to reinforce Ukrainian accession process.

Ruslan Kermach is a political analyst at the Ilko Kucheriv Democ­ratic Initia­tives Foundation. Founded in 1992, the aim of the organ­i­sation is the reinforcement of Ukraine’s integration into European and Euro-Atlantic struc­tures. Today, DIF is one of Ukraine’s leading think tanks. Its focus lays mainly on research of main trends in public opinion, conducting exit polls, devel­oping reasonable recom­men­da­tions in the sphere of democ­ratic trans­for­ma­tions and Ukraine’s European integration for decision makers and civil society representatives.

The Ukraine Breakfast Debates take place within the framework of the project “Platform for Analytics and Inter­cul­tural Commu­ni­cation” (PAIC) and are designed as Ukraine expert talks on topical and relevant issues, which are discussed with our guests over crois­sants and coffee. The project “Platform for Analytics and Inter­cul­tural Commu­ni­cation” (PAIC) aims at supporting the Ukrainian think tank landscape as well as fostering the exchange between German and Ukrainian research insti­tu­tions. The project is imple­mented by the Institute for European Politics (IEP, Berlin) in cooper­ation the Ilko Kucheriv Democ­ratic Initia­tives Foundation (DIF, Kyiv) and the think tank-initiative „think  twice UA“ (Kyiv) and with the kind support of the Federal Foreign Office.  Further infor­mation on the public opinion poll of DIF: Kermach, R. (2017): Attitudes of Ukrainians Towards NATO: Recent trends, hidden motiva­tions and tasks for the future. Ilko Kucheriv Democ­ratic Initia­tives Foundation.