Maksym Khylko: The only Ukraine’s strategic initiative in the region is the  GUAM

Maksym Khylko: The only Ukraine’s strategic initiative in the region is the  GUAM

An exclusive interview with Maksym Khylko, PhD, Chairman of the Board at the East European Security Research Initiative Foundation; Senior Research Fellow at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.

1)  How do bilateral relations of Ukraine with the Partnership for Peace participants develop?

Ukraine actively develops practical bilateral cooperation with other Partnership for Peace (PfP) participants, both NATO members and non-member states. The PhP cooperation includes many important instruments, among which are the joint military exercises and trainings, cooperation in education and science, exchange of air situation data, trust fund projects and etc. Through the trust fund policy established under the framework of the NATO Partnership for Peace, the PfP participants assist Ukraine to reform its defence and security sector in such important spheres as command, control, communications and computers; logistics and standardization; cyber defence; military career transition; medical rehabilitation; strengthening integrity, transparency, accountability and good governance; strengthening civil and democratic control over security and defence structures. Besides, PfP partners help with remediation of radioactive waste buried by the former USSR Armed Forces in the Zhytomyr region of Ukraine. Estimated total budget of the on going NATO trust fund projects for Ukraine is about 40 million EURO.

2) What are the issues and challenges Ukraine faces in energy security sphere today?

If to compare with 2014, the situation is significantly better now. In November 2015, Ukraine completely stopped importing natural gas from Russia that became possible due to the reverse supplies from Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. Ukraine signed a contract with American Westinghouse Electric Company to supply nuclear fuel (previously Russia was the only supplier). Kyiv encourages development of renewable energy sources and makes steps to reform energy market.

But challenges still remain, many of which are inherited from the inefficient and energy intensive Soviet economy, the others are caused by Russian aggression. Due to the Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and occupation of Donbas, Ukraine lost control over its gas fields in the Black Sea and over anthracite coal mines in Donbas.

Much work is still to be done with further diversification of energy sources and routes of their supplying, strengthening the strategic energy reserves, demonopolisation and development of competitive and transparent energy market, increasing the effectiveness of energy use in Ukraine, protection of critical energy facilities. Russian project of Nord Stream-2 pipeline bypassing Ukraine and other Eastern European countries is also a high-level challenge to energy security.

3) What kind of special importance is given to bilateral agreement Ukraine with the USA in defence?

Since 2014, the United States provided Ukraine with military assistance at more than 600 million USD. Ukraine gets the U.S. assistance in military training, military advisers, and military equipment and services. But Kyiv still has not got the lethal weapons from the U.S., and this policy works as an indicator for the other Western countries, which also refuses to provide lethal weapons.

Appealing to Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament and Budapest Memorandum, and hoping for the more resolute support from the U.S., Kyiv unsuccessfully tried to get the Major Non-NATO Ally status during the President Obama rule. And now Kyiv asks the same from the Trump Administration – on March 22, 2017, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted the Appeal to the U.S. Congress asking to sign bilateral defence agreement and provide Ukraine with the Major Non-NATO Ally status. Most likely, this appeal will not succeed as well, because so far Washington has hardly heard enough persuasive arguments for taking such strong additional obligations. 

4) How successful is Ukrainian foreign policy in the regions of South Caucasus and Central Asia?

With the exception of a few initiatives, the regions of South Caucasus and Central Asia have not been among the top priorities of Kyiv’s foreign policy. Ukraine’s communication with the regions is complicated because of transit through Russian territory – previously Moscow used to block projects of energy supplies cooperation between Ukraine and the countries of the region, and now Russia artificially limits their trade with Ukraine applying the transit bans and the Eurasian Customs Union mechanisms. The countries of the region, except for the Georgia, are under strong Russian influence and often agree on Moscow-posed decisions, even if they contradict the economic interests.

The only Ukraine’s strategic initiative in the region is the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development GUAM, which unites Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova (Uzbekistan also used to be a member, but later withdrew). Still, the plans elaborated within GUAM usually were not implemented, and cooperation remained more virtual that practical. On the latest GUAM meeting in Kyiv, on March 27, 2017, new promises to intensify cooperation were given. The time will show, if they are implemented.

5) What new can we expect in the Eastern Partnership project ?

To a large extent, the Eastern Partnership has fulfilled its role, and hardly can remain effective without some conceptual changes, the major of which should be a differentiation. Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have signed the Association and free trade area agreements with the EU; Moldova and Georgia already have a visa-free regime with the EU, and Ukraine should be provided with such regime in the nearest future. The progress and level of ambition of these countries for the European integration is much higher than those of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.

In November 2015, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn presented the Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, proposing differentiation as the new hallmark of it. Such differentiation is urgently needed for the Eastern Partnership – otherwise this format may lose its sense for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

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