On Course for Membership: Why the Rada Voted for NATO

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



The Verkhovna Rada approved a law that prescribes NATO membership in the domestic legislation of the country. 276 Deputies voted for it. Sceptics say that the document has a purely symbolic character, as the Alliance hasn’t invited Ukraine, and it is better for parliament to deal with problems that are more important for the people.

However, supporters believe in future membership.

Adherents and sceptics

On Thursday, June 8th, the parliament adopted in its entirety bill No. 6470 “On the modification of certain legislative acts of Ukraine (rather the foreign policy of Ukraine)”, authored by Deputies of different factions led by the speaker Andrey Parubiy, elected according to the lists of “People’s Front”. Now the country’s proclaimed official aim is accession to NATO, and not “the achievement of the criteria necessary for gaining membership in this organization”, as was specified in earlier documents.

The document caused rare unanimity in the sessional hall, which recently has been extremely seldom. Among 276 Deputies, the bill was supported not only by members of the pro-government faction “Bloc of Petro Poroshenko” and “People’s Front”, but also representatives of the seemingly oppositional Radical party, “Self Help”, and “Fatherland”, who voted for the document practically in full strength.

The “against” buttons were pressed only by Deputies from the “Opposition Bloc” (OB). The leader of the OB faction Yury Boyko reasoned its position by saying that the question of NATO membership “in terms of the applied plan won’t have any consequences”, because Ukraine won’t be admitted into the Alliance anyway because of the recurring conflict in Donbass.

“We consider that in a situation where the people suffer from social problems, the parliament must concentrate on solving questions that consolidate society, support the economy, and give the chance to create jobs. Instead today we once again became witnesses of a vote for an ideological thing,” emphasised Yury Boyko in a conversation with journalists in the parliamentary lobby.

Supporters of the document, on the contrary, speak about Russia being the decisive factor concerning such a bill. “To live on the border with the immemorial enemy, the despot who for hundreds of years exterminates Ukrainians and Ukrainian values without an army, without protection – it is impossible. The way to NATO is the way to independence. We have to protect ourselves from the primordial enemy of the Ukrainian authorities,” said the leader of the “Self Help” faction Oleg Berezyuk to “Strana”.

The arguments of sceptics are swept aside. “All those who say that nobody waits for Ukraine anywhere and nothing shines for us while there is a war in Donbass and Crimea is annexed, my advice is to have more faith in the country! The one who believes, wins!” wrote the vice speaker Irina Gerashchenko on the page on Facebook, elected according to the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko lists.

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Revenge for 2014

As a reminder, the Verkhovna Rada cancelled the non-aligned status of the country (proclaimed at the time of Viktor Yanukovych) in December, 2014, rewrote the law passed four years earlier “On the Principles of Domestic and Foreign Policy”, which enshrined the principle of non-alignment, and which meant the refusal of Ukraine to participate in any military-political unions.

The relevant bill was urgently introduced by the President Petro Poroshenko.

Important detail: unlike similar documents authored by Deputies, the Presidential bill didn’t contain provisions on the acquisition of membership in NATO, speaking only about deepening cooperation with the Alliance with the aim of achieving criteria necessary for accession to this organization. At that time, Poroshenko listened to the opinion of the West, which recommended “not to ride the horse too hard” and not to aggravate the conflict with Russia.

But membership in NATO was discussed in the bill authored by deputies of that time from “People’s Front” Aleksandr Turchynov, Andrey Parubiy, and Sergey Pashinsky.

“In fact, today this wing of ‘People’s Front’ and Andrey Parubiy personally took revenge for the refusal at that time of the project,” said the political scientist Ruslan Bortnik.

But, like in 2014, today Deputies didn’t find the time to write a new version of the law on the principles of domestic and foreign policy, and simply changed only a few words of the current law in favour of the new conditions.

A bad penny always comes back

It should be noted that over the past year direct hints were repeatedly sounded by the West that they won’t wait for Ukraine in NATO. The last time – at the summit of the Alliance in Warsaw in the summer of 2016.

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The main reason for the unwillingness of the Alliance to see Ukraine in its ranks is obvious – the military conflict in the east, and also the non-resolved issue concerning the borders with Russia after the annexation of Crimea.

Therefore, from the point of view of usual logic, the adoption of amendments to the law by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is simply nothing other than a piece of paper.

But in this piece of paper there are two important aspects.

The first one – geopolitical. By legislatively approving the course on NATO, the Ukrainian authorities once again speaks to western partners – you won’t force us to carry out the political part of the Minsk Agreements, and for the sake of agreements with Russia you do not even remember the neutral status of the country. Recall that it is exactly the guarantee of non-aligned status of Ukraine that is usually considered during the modelling of various concepts of reconciliation between Russia and Ukraine (for example – Kissinger’s concept and Pinchuk’s concept).

Now it’s as if on this path a legislative barrier was erected. Although, of course, it’s quite fragile – as soon as the priorities of the government will change, 226 votes for the next changes can be found.

“The authors of the project not only present the topic of NATO to society in their own sauce, but also give an unambiguous signal to Alliance member countries that regardless if you want it or not, you will be obliged to reckon with our desires. In addition, it still, however, hasn’t been signed into law by the President, the course on membership in NATO is fixed now,” said Bortnik.

The political scientist Anatoly Oktisyuk paid attention to the political strategy value of “the course to NATO”.

“Obviously, the factor of future presidential elections is considered. Poroshenko maintains an image of the candidate of the West and the center of the country who keeps, despite everything, a course on the EU and NATO, probably, in the hope that in the second round he will have a moderate candidate who has the support of the southeast,” considers Oktisyuk.

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