Georgia, Ukraine won't be offered Membership Action Plans at Nato summit

By bne IntelliNews March 20, 2008

Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv -

Neither Ukraine nor Georgia will be formally accepted as candidates for Nato's programme intended to prepare aspiring members for joining the military alliance at April's summit in Bucharest, despite a last-minute push by US President George W. Bush, according to sources close to Nato.

Instead, the Nato leadership will seek a formula to reaffirm support for Kyiv and Tbilisi's bids, while putting the divisive issue off and giving them more time to build up support amid member countries, the sources say. The delay will also avoid aggravating relations with Russia, which has made dire warnings about the consequences that would follow the further eastward expansion of the military alliance.

"There is an effort to find a formula which will not say 'no' to Ukraine and Georgia, but will de facto put the decision off for later," says Ilko Kucheriv, a well-connected pro-Nato advocate in Ukraine who heads the Kyiv-based Democratic Initiatives Foundation.

The ministerial meeting of Nato countries in Brussels on March 6 ended without a consensus on these so-called Membership Action Plans (MAPs). However, the ministers of foreign affairs agreed to refrain from airing their differences in public and to seek consensus at a follow-up meeting ahead of the April 2-4 summit. So the US president raised eyebrows with an announcement he would stop over in Kyiv on April 1 ahead of the Bucharest summit. The surprise visit is viewed as a last-ditch attempt to muster support for Kyiv and Tbilisi's bid to be accepted into a MAP.

However, the US' efforts have so far failed to convince key Western European alliance members, foremost among them France and Germany, to support these bids. These countries are worried that such moves would strain already tense relations with Russia, which adamantly opposes Nato's further expansion to regions it views as falling within its own sphere of influence. Russia's outgoing president, Vladimir Putin, warned in February that Moscow could point missiles at Ukraine should its former Soviet ally join Nato and become a host for military bases.

"The Chancellor's Office has now apparently convinced [Chancellor Angela] Merkel herself to lead the opposition to Georgian and Ukrainian MAPs and coordinate with Russia to that end," says Vladimir Socor, a senior fellow with the right-wing think-tank The Jamestown Foundation. "Blocking those MAPs is now Berlin's bipartisan policy, in a manner that singularizes Germany from among all allies."

Domestic problems, such as Ukrainians' ambivalent attitude to Nato and chances that a parliamentary election in Georgia could lead to a major political shake-up, are also major points of concern for some Nato members, sources say. As a result, alliance members are working on a compromise that would keep the door open for Kyiv and Tbilisi, while stopping just short of giving them a MAP.

"Nato member governments are not ready to offer MAP to Ukraine and Georgia," says Stephen J. Flanagan, senior vice president and director of the International Security Program at the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There are doubts about the depth of support for Nato membership in Ukraine, uncertainty about political trends in Georgia, and concerns that the move would further strain relations with Russia. However, the US and others will want to be sure that this reluctance does not send a message that Moscow's confrontational diplomacy is successful. The allies will look for some concrete steps short of MAP to enhance dialogue with Ukraine and Georgia that would keep Nato's door open."

Kucheriv say it's the Russian factor that's the main problem. "If Russia did not make such a big issue out of this, then Ukraine and Georgia would have been accepted into the Nato MAP long ago," he says.

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