Exclusive interview of the Alexander Khara, expert, Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation, Ukraine
1. What can be expected from the oncoming NATO Summit in Brussels?
Two thirds of the Ukrainians are favorable of a NATO membership idea. This course has been reflected in the national legislation. Though Kyiv still hasn’t got a formal Membership Action Plan the Annual National Program 2018 serves this goal. The NATO partners persuade that it’s the substance not a title that matters.
The forthcoming NATO summit in Brussels would become a favorable opportunity to assess the achievements and to set new goals for a cooperation, as well as directions of further transformations needed with the aim to live up to the standards necessary for a membership. It’s obvious that for domestic political reasons Ukrainian president would try to get a clear signal of NATO’s readiness to provide the country with the candidate’s status.
Mr. Petro Poroshenko has already been invited to the summit as the head of a partner country. At the same time due to the willingness of Hungary to use its leverage for achieving primarily domestic goals the issue of a NATO-Ukraine Commission’s meeting hasn’t been solved yet. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says that the sides have enough time to settle their differences, meaning Budapest’s demands to amend Ukrainian language law and the issue of double citizenship. So far Hungary has already blocked two NATO-Ukraine meetings at ministerial level.
Meanwhile, even if such a high-level commission wouldn’t take place the overall cooperation in the numerous spheres will not be affected. Kyiv still has enough time to deal with Budapest before the crucial decision on getting ticket into the Alliance will be on the table.
2. How do You assess the prospects for the activation of the GUAM ?
The recent political processes in Kishinev and possible power transition in Erevan could boost the activities of GUAM that hasn’t been vivid so far. The events in Armenia, Russia’s one of a few allies, have a potential to inflame the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Moscow has been working hard to keep it unresolved by supporting the both sides to the extent neither of them could win. Thus, it could happen that Baku might need to win over support of the most natural allies. It happened that all four member countries suffer from so called ‘frozen conflicts’ with heavy Russia’s involvement. In Ukraine it’s Russia occupied strip of the Donbass Region and illegally annexed Crimea, in Moldova it’s de jure breakaway but de facto occupied Transdnistria.
The Russia’s threat factor is powerful enough to revitalize the GUAM activities. On top of that all those countries are trying to counterbalance Moscow’s influence in other spheres as well.
At the moment, the US and the EU are preoccupied with their own issues. Yet, giving their view of Russia as the revisionist power thus a destructive force and in the light of the 3D strategy (defence, deterrence and dialogue), GUAM might regain more interest as a proper tool. Anyway, it’s natural for Kyiv to breathe new life into the organization.
3. What is Ukraine's current position in transit and energy security projects?
The energy security is one of the hot topics in Ukraine. Even before its military aggression, Russia has been using energy as major tool for getting political and security concessions. Though the transit potential of Ukraine’s gas pipelines is high enough to accommodate the rising demand in the EU markets, the Kremlin has been perusing the strategy of bypassing its independence willing neighbour by Southern and Northern roots.
The recent decision of the German government to give a green light to the North Stream II project poses threat for both Ukraine and the EU. Ukraine is not just going to lose the transit 3b USD, in some time it will be more vulnerable for Russia’s energy blackmail that we witnessed numerous times and security threats. The project contradicts the EU common energy policy and increases the dependence of Germany from one energy source on more than 50%. At the same time the German government as well as business lobby show that Berlin is ready to take risks. One of them includes the US repressive measures under the CAATSA. Giving the lack of chemistry between the POTUS and Chancellor, Mr. Trump’s critical view of Europe, as well as his ‘America First’ approach that means promoting American businesses interest, especially in energy sphere, it might happen that the White House could impose sanctions on the project and related Russian and European companies.
Ukraine alarms the West and tries to have the project halt. It managed to get rid of the dependence on Russian gas and won a crucial legal battle. Kyiv is eager to have the energy relations with Russia within the European legal framework and on market based principles. It’s in Ukraine’s interest for Russia and the EU to employ the existing transit infrastructure that requires less investment to bust its capacity than to waste it on politically motivated projects.