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11 March, 2011  ▪  Andrii Duda

If Not NATO, Then Russia?

The ability of the public purse to pay for defense is just one of the tests of its “non-aligned” status that Kyiv is failing

When the Verkhovna Rada majority passed the Bill “On the principles of domestic and foreign policy” on July 1, 2010, and the President signed it into law, they effectively cancelled the Law “On the principles of national security of Ukraine.” In fact, the list of priority national interests no longer includes any provision on Ukraine’s integration into the Euroatlantic security region nor any reference to the related treaty. Ukraine’s lawmakers have confirmed Ukraine’s “non-aligned” status.

It’s too late to discuss what Ukraine lost when it rejected Euroatlantic integration and the drawbacks for Europe which, when it had a chance, did everything it could to prevent Kyiv from joining NATO Membership Action Plan. More important now is a different question altogether: How prepared is Ukraine to “carry” its non-aligned status? Neutral or non-aligned status is very costly and a country’s budget to has to cover the cost. Viktor Yanukovych’s first year in power showed that nobody is planning to spend on defense—not even a minimal amount, let alone increase its budget.

Ukrainian experts and the Ministry of Defense suggest a virtually identical sum that needs to be spent on defense every year: at least UAH 20bn. According to very modest estimates by the Ministry, the military needs UAH 27bn this year. In reality, President Yanukovych allocated only UAH 13.6bn, or slightly over US $1.5bn, from the budget—half of what defense needs.

In fact, this amount will only cover the cost of living, including payroll, uniforms and food—but nothing on what one might call actual defense. By comparison, Russia, where territorial claims against Crimea and Sevastopol come up at various levels all the time, spent 2.84% of GDP for defense in 2010—RUR 1.274tn, or over US $43.5bn—and is planning to raise that to 3.02% in 2011—RUR 1.517tn or around US $52bn. 

But Russia’s not the only good example. In neutral countries whose status is close to non-aligned Ukraine, the military is funded far better. For instance, Finland’s military budget was 1.55% of GDP last year, or US $3.46bn, and defense spending is on the rise: Finland plans to spend US $14.3bn over 2010-2013. Sweden, another neutral country, is one of the most militarized states in the region. In 2009, its defense budget was US $5.5bn—and its population is 20% of Ukraine’s. Three years ago, official Stockholm was going to cut defense spending considerably. But it changed plans radically after Russia’s incursion into Georgia. The Swiss defense budget, with 7.5mn people, is over US $5bn. Military experts say it’s the most militarized country in the world, able to muster a well-organized army of 1.7mn troops within 48 hours.

The poverty of Ukraine’s defense budget has completely stopped the switch to a professional army. In his election platform, Mr. Yanukovych promised these changes would be done in 2011. Today, the Defense Ministry says unequivocally that the army cannot switch to a contractual basis for lack of funding. For now, Ukraine will keep drafting 25,000 conscripts every year, just as it always has. Judging by reports over the last month, the only “military objective” the Defense Ministry is working on now is feeding the troops. And the main question is—which (correctly connected) company will get to do this.

The question of budget capacity to fund defense is just one of the non-aligned “tests” Kyiv is in the process of failing. The past year has made it clear that “neutrality” is not so much a matter of status for Ukraine, as it is a legal excuse to walk away from NATO and back into Russia’s orbit. Nor is the embarrassing prolongation of the Black Sea Fleet’s stay in Sevastopol for 25 years the only problem. Even such a long-mothballed option as joining Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization has been resurrected by Party of the Regions. Statements about the need for “closer cooperation” with this organization are already in the air. And that’s just a step away from sending Ukrainian boys to Russia’s hot spots.

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