New challenges and opportunities

20 February 2020, 01:30

“This is a time of renewal for Ukraine. A new President. A new Parliament. New opportunities for all Ukrainian citizens.” These were the opening lines of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s address to the Verkhovna Rada during the recent visit of the North Atlantic Council to Ukraine. 

Representatives of all NATO Allies and North Macedonia (soon to be our 30th member) spent two days in the country, visiting both Odesa and Kyiv on 30-31 October. The visit was a strong signal of support to Ukraine. A signal that NATO is and will remain by Ukraine’s side. NATO will continue to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Allies are also committed to support Ukraine’s efforts to reform its security and defence institutions.

Ukraine has come a long way, and there is further to go. NATO will stand with Ukraine because we share the same values. A love for freedom and democracy. Respect for human rights and the rule of law. It is not easy to protect those values and principles in an ever-changing security environment. 

This has been NATO’s fundamental mission throughout its 70-year existence. It is based on the conviction that like-minded Allied nations that share the same values shall stand together in solidarity and friendship. And, should the need arise, will defend and protect each other, including on the battlefield.There are differences among Allies on a range of different issues. Such differences are not new. Yet despite them, or perhaps thanks to them, NATO has been able to grow stronger since the signature of the Washington Treaty in 1949. And as we mark our 70th anniversary this year, the Alliance continues to provide security for its nearly 1 billion people. 

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NATO has strengthened its deterrence and defence, with more forces at higher readiness. Next year, 20,000 U.S. troops will cross the Atlantic as part of U.S.-led exercise DEFENDER 2020 – the largest deployment of U.S. forces to Europe for an exercise in the last 25 years. North America and Europe are doing more together now than in many years. Allies are also stepping up our response against cyber attacks and hybrid threats, including with new baseline requirements for resilient telecommunications.

Intensifying our cooperation with partners in these and many other areas remains in our core interest. In 2020 NATO will continue to develop its partnerships with friends across the globe, amongst which Ukraine has a distinctive partner status.

NATO Allies strongly support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its right to decide its own future. NATO does not, and will not, recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Crimea is the territory of Ukraine. We also condemn Russia’s aggressive actions in the Black Sea region and its support provided to the militant groups in eastern Ukraine. 

2019 brought new developments in the Trilateral Contact Group and a new dynamic for Normandy dialogue. Allies commended President Zelenskyy’s commitment to the peaceful resolution of the conflict. There are high hopes that 2020 will bring further progress, however the conflict in Donbas continues to claim lives. It has been reiterated by NATO’s leadership many times that the onus is now on Russia to withdraw its troops, equipment and support for militants in eastern Ukraine. NATO will continue to support the efforts of the Normandy format, the Trilateral Contact Group and the OSCE.

In addition to political support, NATO will continue to provide Ukraine with practical support. Such support, delivered as part of NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine, makes a real difference. 

Through ten Trust Funds, NATO Allies have pledged over forty million euros in areas such as command and control, cyber defence and medical rehabilitation. We are helping wounded service men and women get the medical and psychological treatment they need, and we support Team Ukraine’s participation in the Invictus Games. We are helping strengthen Ukraine’s resilience to hybrid threats and cyber attacks.

We are also increasing our support in the Black Sea region, with exercises, port visits and information sharing. In 2020 NATO and Ukraine will conduct a table-top exercise on a scenario related to hybrid threats in the Black Sea region – a practical example of the increased NATO support related to Black Sea challenges, decided by Allied Foreign Ministers in April 2019.

We are committed to helping Ukraine better provide for its security and implement structural reforms. This is where the NATO Representation to Ukraine’s advisers play a key role, working day-to-day with Ukrainian institutions to implement security and defence reforms and enhance Ukraine’s resilience in line with Euro-Atlantic standards and principles. 

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The year 2020 will launch a new cycle of defence and security planning in Ukraine. A new National Security Strategy, Military Security Strategy, Strategic Defence Bulletin and several security and defence reviews should be adopted and implemented. These will be decisive in terms of setting Ukraine’s strategic priorities for the years ahead. It will requiremuch strategic thinking, as well as strategic acting.Challenging reform tasks for 2020 will include strengthening civilian control and democratic oversight of defence, security and intelligence bodies, improving the command and control system for Ukraine’s defence forces, ensuring good governance and tackling corruption in the security and defence sector. 

Ukraine’s society is looking for visible progress in this and other areas. And NATO will continue supporting Ukraine in achieving such progress. In 2020 we look forward to significant further steps in implementing the framework Law on National Security, the adoption of which was welcomed by Allies in 2018 as an important step bringing Ukraine closer to European and Euro-Atlantic standards and principles. Today, and in 2020, there is a window of opportunity to translate the vision set out in this law into tangible reforms and results.

Among those steps, the reform of the Security Service of Ukraine remains a key element. Through its Representation in Kyiv, NATO has – jointly with the EU and U.S. as part of the International Advisory Group (IAG) – been supporting Ukraine with advice on SBU reform for over three years. As in any democracy, reform of the security and intelligence services in Ukraine is a sensitive matter. It is unlikely to succeed if it is not shaped through wider internal dialogue among multiple national stakeholders. And clearly, there is no magic, one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf solution.

But Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic partners would welcome the SBU’s transformation into a de-politicized and effective security agency focusing on the core tasks defined by the Law on National Security: counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism and protection of state secrets. Cooperation and exchange with the Euro-Atlantic security and intelligence communities, based on mutual trust, would also benefit from progress on reform. 

The Verkhovna Rada’s new convocation already made a strong start in 2019. NATO looks forward to Parliament’s active support to the reform of Ukraine’s security and defence sector. At the same time, it is important to find a balance between “turbo-mode” speed and Euro-Atlantic quality of adopted legislation. That is why strengthening Parliament’s capacity will remain one of the key directions of our advisory support. 

In May 2020 Ukraine is set to host – for the first time in its history – the spring session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. This major happening will bring hundreds of Members of Parliament from NATO member states to Kyiv, enabling them to engage with their counterparts in the Verkhovna Rada, and learn more about this country and its freedom-loving people.

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To be sure, 2020 will bring new challenges and new opportunities for both Ukraine and NATO. NATO will continue to support Ukraine’s ambitious reform agenda, which is crucial to achieving a prosperous and peaceful Ukraine, firmly anchored among the family of European democracies. And we highly value Ukraine’s continued contribution to NATO-led missions and operations around the world, especially while facing grave threats at home. This shows Ukraine’s strong commitment to be a contributor to international security.

NATO, as well as Ukraine, learned the historic lesson that peace and security can never be taken for granted. Ukraine is pays a lot of effort to implement wide-ranging reforms, strengthen its defence capabilities and enhance its ability to provide for its own security. And NATO will continue to stand by Ukraine’s side and support these efforts through all the available instruments our Distinctive Partnership offers. 

Alexander Vinnikov, head of NATO Representation to Ukraine and NATO Liaison Office in Ukraine

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