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Security pacts bridge gap until Ukraine joins NATO

Lilia Rzheutska | Viktoria Vlasenko
July 11, 2024

Ukraine has signed 21 bilateral security agreements with Western partners since January. DW examined what they entail and what their advantages are for Kyiv.

The NATO flag and the Ukrainian flag
Ukraine hopes to become a member of NATO one dayImage: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

The NATO summit that took place in Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, in July 2023 ended in disappointment for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: There was no invitation for Ukraine to become a member of the military alliance, nor a concrete road map to that end. Instead, he had to content himself with the fact that G7 leaders and the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission had signed a joint declaration in support of Ukraine.

"Today we are launching negotiations with Ukraine to formalize — through bilateral security commitments and arrangements aligned with this multilateral framework, in accordance with our respective legal and constitutional requirements — our enduring support to Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and territorial integrity, rebuilds its economy, protects its citizens, and pursues integration into the Euro-Atlantic community," the document read.

One year later, with the current NATO summit underway in the US capital, Washington, DC, to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the alliance, a lot has happened. Ukraine has signed 21 security agreements with various nations. But what have they achieved?

Agreement with UK serving as a template

The first country to conclude a "security agreement" with Ukraine was the United Kingdom (UK) in January 2024. In it, the UK pledged "unwavering" support in its "commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, within its borders, which have been internationally recognized since 1991. […]" Oleksandr Krayev from the Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism," a non-governmental research center, said the UK document had gone on to serve as a model for other similar agreements.

Krayev pointed out that the UK had "set the tone" with regard to the allocation of military assistance and had also stipulated that all agreements should include a section underlining support for Ukraine's accession to NATO.

All of the G7 states and a large number of EU countries have since concluded bilateral security agreements with Ukraine. Independently of this, Joint Security Commitments between the European Union and Ukraine were agreed to at the end of June. Zelenskyy signed his country's most recent agreement on July 8, inking a deal with Poland during a visit to the capital Warsaw. On the same day, Russia carried out another devastating missile attack on Ukrainian cities.

"We know very well that this war, if it ended badly, would end badly not only for Ukraine, but also for Poland, for all of Europe and the entire Western world," said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. He assured Zelenskyy that Ukraine could count on Poland's support in its quest to become a member of NATO. The Ukrainian president said the two were working on a mechanism that would allow them to down Russian missiles and drones fired at Ukraine but passing close to Polish airspace. The mechanism, he said, would be based in Poland.

Each agreement tailored to specific priorities

Each security agreement contains commitments to provide military, financial and humanitarian support to Ukraine, said Krayev, explaining that by signing them, "countries agree to grant Ukraine access to certain technologies, to invest in the defense industry and to expand defense capabilities."

He added that each also entailed particular details. The German-Ukrainian agreement, for instance, outlines the provision of tanks to the Ukrainian armed forces, whereas agreements with the Baltic States detail infantry training and cybersecurity. Ukraine's agreement with Italy includes special operations and artillery training and the deal with France talks about aircraft and submarines. "Each country has developed an agreement in keeping with its capacities and priorities," Krayev said. 

However, according to Jamie Shea, a senior fellow at the Brussels-based think tank Friends of Europe, the security agreements' "main function is psychological rather than material." The former British NATO official told DW, they "simply sum up bilateral assistance already given," like, for example, a Czech initiative to supply Ukraine with rounds of 155mm ammunition via the European Peace Fund, through NATO channels, or in a US military and financial aid package worth $60 billion (€ 55 billion).

"So, these agreements have not generated new assistance to Ukraine," said Shea. The pledges he said, "were designed at least to give Ukraine what was called security guarantees, but they are not guarantees, none of these agreements give an Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty guarantee, so to call them guarantees is a bit misleading." He said that the agreements served to bridge the gap during Russia's war on Ukraine until the latter joined NATO.

"For President Zelenskyy, it is important to show that Ukraine has support globally. When you are in difficulty with the Russians advancing, you want long term assistance, you are impatient because NATO's refusing to give you a date for your probable entry, they show that the West is not getting Ukraine-fatigue and they give him some guarantees that support is going to be long term."

Petro Burkovskyi, head of the Ilko Kucheriv "Democratic Initiatives" Foundation, a Ukrainian think tank, told DW the security agreements were a good basis for peace negotiations, which he said the warring parties would have to begin sooner or later. "The consensus among partners is based on the agreements, so that they do not agree to conditions for negotiations imposed by Russia, regardless of changes in power," he said.

This article was originally written in Ukrainian.

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