What are the results of the recent visit of the NATO delegation to Ukraine?
First of all, I think this visit of the NATO Secretary General and Ambassadors of member nations should be seen for its political significance, conveying a very strong message that Allies care about Ukraine. They expressed their unequivocal support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, and also an appreciation of the good cooperation and partnership that NATO enjoys with Ukraine. Ukraine is a valued partner of NATO, making great contributions to shared security. We all know your participation in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, KFOR mission in Kosovo, and NATO mission in Iraq.
When it comes to difficult security circumstances, which Ukraine confronts itself, we all, as Allies, condemn the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation. 2014 was a watershed year, in terms of European security, with the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea. All Ambassadors to NATO, together with Secretary General, expressed during this visit their non-recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and they called on Russia to give control of the peninsula back to Ukraine and to redress the situation. NATO supports different mechanisms for a peaceful settlement, like the Normandy Format and Minsk Process, in addition to what the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is doing. We would all like to see Russia stop supporting the separatists in the Donbas and withdraw all the heavy weaponry, to pave the way for a peaceful settlement.
The North Atlantic Council visit is an important signal of Allied nations’ political and practical support for Ukraine. The NATO Secretary General addressed Verkhovna Rada, and this is for the second time, with all these messages, transmitting the sentiments of 29 Alliance members. The fact that they visited Odessa for the port visit of NATO Standing Naval Forces, and to meet with personnel from the Maritime Academy and Military Academy, is also symbolically important. It shows that Black Sea security is at the core of the Ambassadors’ discussions. In April this year, NATO Foreign Ministers agreed on additional measures to strengthen NATO's presence and involvement in Black Sea security.
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You mentioned the sentiments of all the NATO nations. Can you describe the current position of Hungary?
We have to recognize that certain issues, like the rights of minorities, are a sensitive question for many nations. Like many other countries, Hungary has an interest in seeing minorities in Ukraine, including the Hungarian minority, be treated according to international norms and laws. I know that in September 2017, Ukrainian Parliament adopted a law on education. NATO Allies had the chance to hold a NATO-Ukraine Commission during this North Atlantic Council visit, and the statement that came out of that meeting makes clear reference to that law. The statement urged Ukrainian authorities to take into consideration the recommendations and conclusions of the Venice Commission while implementing this law. There is a clear understanding on the part of Allies that Ukraine should do so, and we also understand that there is a commitment on the part of Ukraine to do so.
If we are talking about perspectives on NATO-Ukraine relations, can you please describe the current situation with a Membership Action Plan (MAP)?
It has been repeated time and again that NATO stands by its decision at the Bucharest Summit in 2008, that these two countries will become members of NATO. I was present at that meeting. That was an important occasion to discuss the aspirations of both Ukraine and Georgia.
Now we have to understand and appreciate the fact that it is a process. What is needed on the part of Ukraine is to meet the reform agenda requirements to make the country fit to join NATO. The reform agenda needs to be pursued in such a manner to make democratic institutions stronger, the judiciary more efficient, and defence institutions and capabilities that meet the standards of the Alliance. NATO Allies appreciate that, in recent years, Ukraine has embarked upon implementing these reforms. But it takes time – we know that from the experience of many countries.
The most important thing for Ukraine is not to deviate from this reform agenda: to fight against corruption, to strengthen the judiciary, to strengthen the rule of law, and to take advantage of different tools within the Annual National Programme or Comprehensive Assistance Package that NATO has with Ukraine. We all agree that when you do all this, you will be meeting the requirements to join the Euro-Atlantic institutions, and NATO is one fundamental alliance in that respect. So pursuing the reform agenda will help that aspiration come to fruition. But at the same time, more importantly, it will meet the expectations of Ukrainians. So you have to do it anyway for your people.
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Now coming to the MAP. Your aspirations are known by all Allies. You have incorporated these aspirations into your Constitution. And you have also communicated them formally to the Alliance. What I would emphasize, like Secretary General did, is that perhaps instead of focusing too much on the technical bureaucratic requirements, focus on furthering and implementing the reform agenda. This is crucial. You cannot put aside the MAP for any country, so for any potential accession to happen, there will be a face-to-face talk about the MAP. We should also be mindful that the MAP requires a consensual political decision by all Allies. Whether Ukraine should renew it, whether it will start, or how it will continue and when it will end – these are not the questions to really focus on at the current stage. The focus should be on reforms and on using all the available tools, which I mentioned before.
We have enough ways and means to increase our partnership and strengthen the capacities and resilience of Ukraine in addressing hybrid challenges. For instance, we have NATO-Ukraine Platform on Countering Hybrid Warfare. All these tools, when utilized properly, will make Ukraine ready and fit to join NATO. When will it happen? We cannot give a timeline. You need to be patient and perseverant in taking all these steps without deviating from the course. This is something that we all appreciate.
Tacan Ildem was born in 1956 and is a graduate of Ankara University Political Science Faculty with a specialisation in international relations. Ildem started his diplomatic career in 1978. From 2000 to 2003, he was Chief of Cabinet and Principal Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of the Republic of Turkey. From 2003 until 2006, he served as Ambassador of Turkey to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Later, from 2006 to 2009, Ildem was Turkey’s Permanent Representative to NATO. After that, he was Director General for International Security Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara (2009-2011). Ildem served as Permanent Representative of Turkey to the OSCE in Vienna from 2011 until 2016. He was appointed NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy in March 2016.