Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday reaffirmed his country’s desire to join NATO during talks with alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday, shortly before EU leaders arrive in Ukraine to celebrate improved political and economic ties.
This week’s meetings come at a sensitive moment, just days after the United States named Kurt Volker, a former U.S ambassador to NATO, as special envoy to Ukraine — a move that could disrupt the German-French-led peace process.
Ukrainian leaders have praised Volker’s appointment, and the Trump administration has maintained economic sanctions aimed at forcing Russia to end its military intervention in Ukraine. But Volker’s uncertain role in the so-called Normandy format peace process, and the possibility that he could engage in his own direct discussions with the Kremlin, could make it harder, rather than easier, to implement the Minsk 2 peace accord brokered in 2015 by the leaders of France and Germany.
Amid these worries, Poroshenko used a visit to Kiev by Stoltenberg, for a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, to reaffirm his commitment to ultimately joining the transatlantic alliance. He said Ukraine was working on various reforms intended to meet, by 2020, the standards required to apply for membership.
“Ukraine has clearly defined its security-related future,” Poroshenko said. “The Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s parliament] voted, and I signed the law, which states our future membership in NATO as our goal in foreign policy and security policy.”
He added, “We deem it necessary and today it has been emphasized, that we should start a discussion about establishing a membership action plan.”
Stoltenberg said NATO welcomed Ukraine’s reform effort and, in a clear reference to Russia, noted that no country had a right to try to thwart Ukraine’s NATO aspirations.
“Every nation has the right to decide its own path including whether it wants to be a member of a military alliance as NATO,” Stoltenberg said, adding that only NATO allies and the applying country had a say.
“The focus now in Ukraine is on reform, and I welcome that because regardless of membership, I welcome the fact that Ukraine is moving steadily towards meeting NATO standards, more interoperabiltity,” Stoltenberg said.
“So NATO will continue to support Ukraine on the path towards a close relationship with NATO, to implementing reforms and to meeting NATO standards,” the secretary-general said. “And then the message is that whether Ukraine is going to become a member of NATO or not is for the allies and Ukraine to decide, no one else has a right to try to veto such a process.”
EU leaders, including Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, will be in Kiev on Wednesday and Thursday for a summit intended to celebrate recent tightening of economic and political ties, including the completion of a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement and a new visa-free travel regime for Ukrainians visiting Europe’s Schengen zone.
Original article: By David M. Herzenhorn, Politico.