No Obstacles to Joining NATO with Occupied Territories, - Former Minister of Defense

Thursday, 16 June 2022 — , Sergiy Sydorenko, European Pravda

"I will be tough on NATO," Andriy Zagorodnyuk began our conversation and did not break his promise. Moreover, his criticism of the Alliance is particularly valuable.

He is a former Minister of Defense of Ukraine in the first government of Zelensky (from August 2019 to March 2020). He had support in Brussels and did much to ensure that Ukraine would receive EOP status (Enhanced Opportunity Partnership) in 2020.

He now heads an independent think tank, the Center for Defense Strategies, which influences both Ukraine and the Alliance.

Expectations from the NATO Summit in Madrid

We should not expect any dramatic changes in the Alliance's policy towards Ukraine.

However, we hope that NATO will identify assistance and Ukraine's victory as its goals. If this does not happen, it will mean that NATO still does not understand what is happening around.

NATO will also adopt its new Strategic Concept in Madrid. The current strategy was adopted in 2010 and is now completely irrelevant. For example, it does not include the Black Sea at all.

In 2019, at the North Atlantic Council in Odesa, I suggested including Ukraine in developing the Black Sea Strategy. Then I saw how ambassadors look at each other. I understood they not only did not have any Black Sea strategy but were also not going to work on it.

The Black Sea is occupied right now. NATO still does not have a Black Sea Strategic Concept. We hope the Alliance's new concept will close these huge strategic gaps.

Opening of Ukrainian ports

Turkey is not ready to let NATO ships through and is trying to show itself as a security guarantor in the Black Sea.

Their naivety will pass, and they will make a choice: either they begin to act as a guarantor of security, or allow other ships to enter the Black Sea on combat duty, or we patrol the Black Sea from the air.

This requires a no-fly zone plus a military-free zone.

It is impossible to unblock the Black Sea other than by military means.

We cannot talk about any negotiations with Russia.

We should name this operation an operation in creating a humanitarian corridor. NATO's involvement in it is not a participation in the war but participation in preventing the global food crisis.

As for Turkey, we should be very grateful that it closed the straits in February and did not let Russia send additional ships. This is a huge story that we really need to remember.

NATO's strategic mistakes

NATO's decision at the Brussels summit exactly one year ago was on the project's success in Afghanistan. Two months later, the Afghan government and army ceased to exist.

There was no successful Afghan project. They buried trillion dollars there. And the main thing is that the US left the weapons there, which we would need now. But it went to the Taliban instead.

NATO's Readiness for Ukraine's membership

Western European countries, such as France or Germany, do not yet see us as members of NATO. They see it "sometime later." These countries are afraid of Russia.

We, Ukrainians, are no longer afraid of Russia because we see that it is defeatable. We see the limits of its capabilities. It has reached these limits now.

We will solve this problem. But as long as they fear this war, they will not approve of our membership in the Alliance.

To become a member of NATO, we must first win the war. And it's really possible.

We already understand that we can prevent further occupation and liberate the territory from a short-term perspective. The Alliance will be ready to discuss Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration only when that happens.

Before that, it is almost unrealistic to talk about our membership.

NATO Membership with the Occupied Territories

Even if part of Ukraine, for example, Crimea, remains temporarily occupied, this will not be an obstacle to joining NATO.

If we had joined NATO in recent years, the new phase of the war that began on February 24, 2022, would have been a common problem of the Alliance. Other member states would have been obliged to respond.

The only obstacle to our membership was their fear of Russia, not our occupied territories.

Alternative Guarantees for Ukraine

Nothing can stop Allies from forming other alliances at the same time. Nothing prevents Ukraine from joining NATO and seeking alternative security arrangements.

However, it is impossible to receive clear security guarantees.

The NATO agreement stipulates that the Allies can be a part of resolving the conflict to the best of their ability, but there is no guarantee that they will do so.

Even NATO cannot guarantee our security.

However, it is theoretically possible to agree on something similar to NATO's agreements.

For instance, some limited guarantees with a clear definition. For example - 20 or 10 planes. 

We have been negotiating on that with Washington and our most significant partners.

Ukraine's Neutrality as Part of Security Agreements

Neutrality will not give us anything. Russia can just celebrate its victory if we do that. 

A Belarus model is the only option for Ukraine's independence that would suit Russia. Therefore, whether we are joining NATO or not, does not solve the problem.

We need to get more than just "metal" from NATO. We need a different philosophy of using arms, which changes with the transition in line with NATO standards. It focuses on high-precision weapons, not on "covering of areas."

What to Change for Compatibility with NATO

NATO has political standards, organizational standards, and technical ones.

Technical standards are the caliber of weapons, types of weapons, etc.

Organizational standards are about how the Armed Forces and the Defense Forces are built, what their structure is, and how doctrine, guidelines, statutes, etc., function. Ukraine has already accomplished a lot here, but not everything.

Political standards are the rule of law, clear work on corruption risks, and other common things.

A country that wants to join the Alliance must be a democracy. It is not possible without that.

To advance with NATO, we need these critical reforms. So that everyone can see that they are happening and the progress is significant.

Expectations from NATO that Did Not Come True

In the first weeks after the invasion, there were many criticisms that NATO had not closed the sky.

I then spoke with a lot of generals and specialists from different countries. They explained that it was technically possible but in a limited area and not over the whole of Ukraine.

Second, the operation to close the sky requires understanding what to do if the enemy violates the "border." NATO had to be ready to shoot down missiles, planes, etc. It means to engage in direct confrontation with the Russian Armed Forces. They were not ready because our allies did not understand the level of risk.

Therefore, at that time, it was absolutely unrealistic to close the sky.

Now we can return to this topic, at least to close the sky over the Black Sea.

We could expect NATO to form a coalition to provide Ukraine with modern weapons. And they did not do that.

The main reason is that at the beginning, not a single country believed we would win. Then they saw a winning Ukraine that could beat the Russians. Then the Alliance could return to this, but for some reason, they did not.

That's why Ramstein happened. We expected such an aid program from NATO, but the US organized it.

Instead, the Alliance didn't take any initiative. This is my biggest disappointment

Weapon Expectations

These weeks are full of events. June 15 - Ramstein 3, then a NATO Defence Ministers meeting, then a NATO summit.

We don't need just events. We need to know how and when we will get weapons that can turn the tides of the war.

We need at least 100 rocket launchers, a bare minimum. We got only 7. The difference between 7 and 100 is huge.

We need 155 mm Howitzers. We also need something to do with air defense. We need to close the issue of anti-ship missiles. We need drones. If they don't provide us with aircraft, then let them give us all sorts of drones in large quantities.

The highest priority is multiple rocket launchers.

We need counter-battery radars, electronic warfare, and, of course, a huge amount of ammunition.

We are still in need of armored vehicles. We have already seriously strengthened our armored vehicles. The Americans helped through other countries and the allies themselves. But it is not enough.

If we get it, we will have a very high chance of changing the dynamics of the war.

Moderated by Sergiy Sydorenko, European Pravda editor

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