Ukrainians Growing Warmer to Idea of NATO Membership

Last week, popular American Magazine Foreign Policy (FP) published an article claiming that for the first time in its post-Soviet history, a majority of Ukrainians approve of their country joining NATO. “The drastic change of attitude marks a sea of change in Ukrainians’ attitudes toward the security alliance even as it poses a palpable challenge for the country’s infantile political class,” notes FP.

The publication recalls a recent poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, which made headlines in Ukraine: “64 percent of respondents said they would vote for NATO accession in a hypothetical referendum (Only 28 percent would oppose.) This result marks a landslide and rapid shift in Ukrainians’ perception of the European security architecture adding in 2009, only 21 percent of Ukrainians’ said they supported NATO accession, while almost 60 percent were against.” Inthe pre-Euromaidan period two-thirds of Ukrainians’ couldn’t envisage Ukraine being part of NATO, but now the picture has significantly changed.

According to the analysis, Ukraine’s public attitudes toward NATO have long been shaped by emotional divisions between Westernizers and “pro-Russians,” leaving little space for informed debate:“Ukraine’s third president, Viktor Yushchenko, used to pontificate about joining NATO without delivering on the reforms needed to achieve that goal” – it says adding this resulted in growing apathy towards NATO membership and, in the international realm, in a resounding rejection of Ukraine’s accession plans at the notorious 2008 Bucharest Summit.

In addition, currently, the publication claims the first elements of a growing political consensus on NATO accession seem to be in place in the country that is waging war with Russia for here astern regions. 

“This time, the officials’ words are finally backed up with action: Ukrainian political commentators point out that the country now spends a much larger share of its GDP (about 5 percent) on defense than the NATO-wide 2 percent standard, which few existing members meet. And just this summer, Ukraine has held three major military exercises — Rapid Trident, Fearless Guardian, and Sea Breeze — with NATO troops” – it maintains.

“The non-lethal support and training that Kiev has received from the United States and Canada in the course of the war against Russian-backed separatists further boosted NATO’s image as a credible international partner. Never before has a prospective alliance with Western nations had such a prominent presence on Ukraine’s political agenda and in the media” add FP.

Foreign Policy refers to some statistical information citing some drastic changes in Ukraine’s public opinion in recent months — particularly since the failure of the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement, which was intended to stop the conflict in the east. It says that in March, immediately after the agreement was signed, just 43 percent of Ukrainians said they would support NATO accession, while 32 percent expressed opposition. At that time, the newly signed ceasefire gave many hope that diplomacy could put the war on hold.

As a conclusion, the analysis assumes that, differently from the picture of five years ago, when some European leaders and Ukrainian politicians could credibly claim that Ukraine lacked public support for NATO membership, the argument is ringing increasingly hollow, as Ukrainians are rapidly turning into staunch supporters of the alliance.

Analysis by Georgia Today’s Zviad Adzinbaia

The topic of Ukraine’s NATO accession has been in hibernation since Vik0tor Yanukovych came to power. Similarly to Georgia, when before the Rose Revolution of 2003 there was not even a mere chance of becoming a member of EU or NATO, the landscape has changed unrecognizably. Despite Russia’s continuous opposition to the troika’s (Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova) membership to any of the above-mentioned organizations, the three countries have kept their course consistent. Indeed, Russia has exhausted itself to drag these three states into its Eurasian Union, to minimal avail so far.

Zviad Adzinbaia

20 August 2015 19:51