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No to NATO

April 5, 2010

The Ukrainian president has dissolved the commission which was to work towards NATO membership. It's the latest move to abandon the pro-western stance of the 'Orange Revolution' and re-establish ties with Russia.

Ukraininan flag and NATO logo
Joining NATO is off the table, current ties are 'sufficient'Image: AP Graphics/DW Fotomontage

Since the election of Viktor Yanukovych in February, Ukraine has made no secret of its intention to abandon its goal of joining NATO. Now, Yanukovych has by decree dissolved the commission that was to lay the groundwork for membership.

The move hardly comes as a surprise - it's the final step in Ukraine's process of abandoning the pro-western ambitions of the 'Orange Revolution' that once swept Yanukovych out of power.

Now, as he's back at the helm, Yanukovych said the current level of cooperation with NATO was "sufficient." Yet the move will nonetheless strain the relations with the alliance.

"It's quite a sharp statement," Natalia Bugayova of the Kyiv Post newspaper told Deutsche Welle.

"Dissolving the commission which was to prepare Ukraine for joining NATO is quite a radical move and I think it will certainly exacerbate the relationship with the West."

Picking up ties with Moscow

Viktor Yanukovych election poster
Yanukovych was ousted by the 'Orange Revolution' but returned to power in 2010Image: AP

Ukraine turning its back on NATO is a move that's sure to make the Kremlin happy. Moscow has for years been trying to pressure Ukraine into abandoning its NATO ambitions; using gas prices as a leverage to force Kyiv in line.

Under the previous pro-western leadership of President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, relations with Russia had hit rock bottom.

When pro-Russian Yanukovych narrowly made it back into office in February 2010, he promised a "new page" in ties with its larger neighbour, even calling Russia a "natural ally" to Ukraine.

"In terms of our political and foreign relations, Russia still is the most dominant and closest neighbour to Ukraine," Natalia Bugayova told Deutsche Welle, adding that being on good terms with Russia is vital to Kyiv regardless of how tempting NATO membership might have seemed to the previous government.

"After five years of complete exacerbation of our ties and relations with Russia further pursuing NATO membership would not have been the right move at this point. Relations are still strained between Kyiv and Moscow."

Striking the balance between East and West

The population in Ukraine is strongly divided over the issue. Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea are pro-Russian and accordingly see NATO as an old Cold War enemy. Western Ukraine, however, is more pro-western; and subsequently in favor of NATO.

Ukranian and Russian flags behind negotiating table
Under the previous government in Kyiv, ties with Moscow had suffered dramaticallyImage: Olexander Prokopenko

In order to avoid an escalation of the strains within the country, President Yanukovych has been careful not to move too boldly towards the Kremlin. His first foreign trip since taking office was to Brussels, not to Moscow.

"I think that at this point the move towards Russia will not be as rapid as some might have expected. The government is still trying to maintain the image of being independent," Bugayova said.

On Easter Monday, Yanukovych travelled to Moscow in a visit that - although billed as "private" - included talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. The two countries' warming relations have already translated into increased military cooperation - for instance restarting joint naval exercises.

But despite the move towards Russia, the government in Kyiv vowed last month not to join any military alliance, preparing a law that would make any such membership illegal.

Author: Andreas Illmer
Editor: Rob Turner