Road to NATO without Hungary’s Veto: Ukraine's Reform Plan Agreed with Alliance

Wednesday, 29 November 2023 — , European Pravda, from Brussels
Ukraine has received a positive signal from NATO, but the prospect of joining the Alliance is not any time soon

NATO’s thinking has developed to the point where it can at least partially correct the mistake it made at the Vilnius Summit in July.

Under pressure from the US and Germany, the Alliance not only refused to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join, but also imposed a new condition: Ukraine must meet the requirements of an Annual National Programme (ANP).

This threatened to turn Ukraine's path to membership into a process that would never end. The ANP in its previous form was an absolutely insurmountable document several hundred pages long. Its implementation could only be suspended, not completed.

That was why European Pravda explained back then that the main priority for both Ukraine and its friends in the Alliance had to be changing NATO's attitude towards this requirement.

It looks as if this has been achieved.

In this article, we’ll discuss why NATO has not only removed one of the insurmountable obstacles for Ukraine but has also streamlined future membership talks, although the second hurdle – the cautious position taken by Biden and Scholz – remains unchanged.

We have analysed the document that Ukraine presented to the allies in Brussels.

Nine Pages of Ukrainian Reforms

In Vilnius, President Zelenskyy was persuaded to abandon his harsh rhetoric towards NATO due to its position on Ukraine. Although the problems associated with the Vilnius decision were clearly understood in Kyiv, Ukraine's friends in the Alliance did not hide their disappointment with their own organisation’s decision.

In the first few days following the summit, Ukraine made efforts to convince its partners of their mistake and to remove or at least minimise the requirement for the Annual National Programme (ANP). The first of these tasks failed, as NATO responded that the summit's decision was final and not up for discussion.

However, in the second task Ukraine was successful. European Pravda has a copy of the document officially presented to the Alliance by Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, which has received formal approval. The Adapted Annual National Programme describes the reform priorities that Ukraine has committed to implement for its future NATO membership. At nine pages long, the document sets out a feasible plan.

According to our sources, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had aimed for an even shorter document of around three pages.

The reform plan Ukraine must implement to demonstrate its readiness for membership has grown. It remains doable, however, and does not remotely resemble the endless lists of tasks.

The most crucial change is a shift in the document's ideology. Ukraine now has clear, easily-trackable tasks to accomplish by the end of 2024.

There is also a pleasant surprise for Ukraine – and an unpleasant one for Hungary.

NATO is about Defence

It’s incorrect to say that the Alliance has "approved" the adapted ANP presented by Ukraine: NATO has agreed to formally recognise Ukraine as the sole author of the Annual National Programme.

The Alliance is, it says, merely "taking note" of what Kyiv has shared with them.

In practice, however, things work differently. The Ukrainian reform programme underwent several rounds of coordination within NATO. The Alliance headquarters aligned the document's structure, main elements and ideology before forwarding an "almost final version" to Brussels to ensure the reform programme met NATO's expectations. The Secretary General then collected feedback and suggestions from all the allies, combined them into a unified proposal, and conveyed it to Kyiv.

That’s how the final version of the ANP emerged.

Kuleba officially brought it to Brussels, even though it is a joint document of Ukraine and NATO.

This complex procedure allows for the reform plan to be aligned with the real requirements of the entire Alliance while simultaneously filtering out inappropriate demands from individual member states. That means Hungary, which has long been blackmailing both the Alliance and Kyiv, blocking decisions on Ukraine, citing concerns about minority rights.

The new ANP has essentially resolved this issue, as it contains no requirements for political reforms. The introduction to the document explains: "The 2024 Programme remains focused on the tasks of strengthening the capabilities of Ukraine’s security and defence sector and the development of relevant governance, planning, command and control systems."

The scheme that could make this happen is a genuine diplomatic victory for Ukraine.

Kyiv has convinced Brussels that all politics should be separated from the Annual National Programme (ANP), with control over these reforms being transferred from NATO to the EU. When the EU declares that Ukraine meets the necessary conditions, the Alliance will base its decisions on that assessment. The requirements are the same. Why duplicate them?

"Relevant measures for the implementation of the reforms outlined above are executed within the framework of the preparation process for negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the European Union," the ANP explains. NATO has agreed to this. This move has deprived Hungary’s Viktor Orbán (and potentially others) of additional political leverage over Ukraine.

And it has simultaneously increased the significance of dialogue with the EU.

What About Defence?

The approved ANP consists of five sections: political and economic issues, defence and military matters, resources, security, and legal matters. The five sections with these headings constitute the framework for negotiations on the accession of a new NATO member. On the Alliance's recommendation, the ANP was adapted to this format. All goals within each section have been aligned with the framework of accession negotiations.

Through the ANP, the Alliance is not merely making abstract requests for reforms but is preparing for negotiations, so that when NATO is ready to invite Ukraine to join, Kyiv will be prepared, and ideally, the negotiation and assessment process will be a formality.

However, even if we are only talking about defence, the current list of reforms cannot be described as a mere formality.

Anti-corruption measures are unavoidable. For instance, the section on political issues must prioritise this. NATO will only monitor how the military procurement reforms are being implemented. Specifically, Ukraine has guaranteed that by 2024, it plans to "reform Ukraine's defence procurement system in line with Euro-Atlantic procedures and practices" and "ensure that Ministry of Defence procurement agencies function effectively and have completed the development of relevant procedures," which will be updated. Success in implementing this task will be crucial for NATO to "green-light" Ukraine with regard to ANP compliance.

Among other tasks in the political section for 2024 are Ukraine's commitments on "amendments to legislative acts of Ukraine regarding the strengthening of democratic civilian control over the Armed Forces of Ukraine" and ensuring that "Ukraine's command and control system is transformed".

Ukraine does not expect to complete the implementation of the ANP in 2024.

The tasks are planned to take much longer. For example, Goal No.1 in the political section includes Ukraine's commitment to update the law "On National Security" to strengthen democratic civilian control and oversight over the Armed Forces and the security and defence sector as a whole (including the reform of the Security Service of Ukraine). However, that is not one of the tasks for 2024.

Similar signs that Ukraine is assuming a longer reform period are evident in other sections of the document. For instance, the goal "Reforming Law Enforcement Agencies as a Part of the Security and Defence Sector" for the next year contains only vague tasks and a minimum of specifics.

Other Tasks for 2024

Ukraine has set out numerous specific tasks for the upcoming year, particularly regarding mine clearance. Kyiv has pledged to "strengthen national humanitarian demining capabilities" and ensure that "Ukraine’s mine action system is formally integrated under the general leadership of the Ministry of Defence", among other commitments.

Several sections emphasise the goal of increasing arms and ammunition production in Ukraine with the assistance of allies and Western manufacturers.

However, questions may arise regarding digitisation, where the tasks for 2024 are not ambitious. Pledges such as the "automation of logistics and medical support processes of the security and defence sector of Ukraine" and that "the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s Medical Information System [will be] implemented and operational in Ministry of Defence healthcare facilities" do not align with all expectations for the digitisation of the military sector.

The tasks for 2024 regarding support for the military and their families are quite ambitious. The list includes:

  1. NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package projects for Ukraine will build a system of assistance services for Defenders of Ukraine.
  2. A national standard governing the list of services for military personnel transitioning to civilian life is established and codified in relevant regulatory acts.
  3. A regulatory act on the introduction of the veteran's assistant in the system of transition from military service to civilian life has been approved.
  4. A holistic system of psychological recovery/rehabilitation is created, in particular for the purpose of medical and psychological support for official activities and personnel in the security and defence sector.
  5. An effective response to outbreaks of infectious diseases and emergency situations in the field of public health in the security and defence sector healthcare facilities is ensured.

The document also sets tasks concerning cybersecurity, intelligence information exchange, cooperation in combating terrorism, and more.

But what happens when Ukraine fulfils the ANP?

Neither achieving the 2024 goals nor finally implementing the ANP, which according to this year's plan requires several years of work, will automatically open the door to NATO. The key obstacle is still the position of Berlin and Washington. And unfortunately, there is no good news on that score.

Especially from the US.

Multiple sources assert that the White House, including Biden personally, opposes extending an invitation to join NATO to Ukraine at the Washington Summit also. So Ukraine's biggest political task is to change the US’s position. Fulfilment of the ANP will allow for rapid accession once this position changes.

By Sergiy Sydorenko

Editor, European Pravda, from Brussels


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