Rumsfeld Promises U.S. Support for Ukraine's NATO Ambitions
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
VILNIUS, Lithuania, Oct. 23, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld assured Ukraine's defense minister today the United States will continue its efforts to help the former Soviet state make the reforms necessary for it to qualify for NATO membership.
"Progress has been made," Rumsfeld told reporters of Ukraine's efforts following a bilateral meeting here with Ukraine Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko. "We encourage it and are available to be of assistance" to support Ukraine.
Rumsfeld and Hrytsenko are among 10 defense ministers who will participate in the Informal NATO-Ukraine High Level Consultations here Oct. 24.
The meeting, the fourth of its kind during the past four years, is part of an intensified dialog under way in response to Ukraine's interest in accelerating its admission to NATO.
That dialog was launched six months ago, marking a milestone in NATO-Ukraine relations and setting what NATO officials call a "clear signal" that the allies support Ukraine's membership aspirations.
"We are all interested in working with them to encourage them to undertake the kinds of reforms that will put them on that path," Rumsfeld said following a bilateral session today with the Lithuanian Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, whose country is among NATO's newest members, joining in the North Atlantic Alliance in the spring of 2004.
NATO has a solid interest in welcoming Ukraine into its ranks, a senior defense official told reporters on background. "A stable, democratic and independent is extremely important to European and Western security, so there have been motivations on both sides," he said.
Final acceptance into the alliance will be based on Ukraine's progress on key reform goals. Senior U.S. officials told reporters today those goals involve political, economic and defense reforms, with defense initiatives moving forward the most rapidly.
Earlier during an eight-day trip through Asia that concludes here, Rumsfeld said the United States and its NATO allies have worked diligently to help Ukraine make "the kinds of reforms and changes and adjustments in their military so they can get on a path that will bring them closer to NATO."
Among these efforts is a program to reduce conscription within the Ukrainian military to promote a more professional military, elevate the quality of its noncommissioned officer corps, enhance staff officer skills, and improve Ukraine's military education system, a senior defense official said on background.
Another key focus is replacing Ukraine's Soviet legacy equipment and tactics with those suited to a lighter, more highly deployable force, he said.
While transforming its military, Ukraine has become a solid partner in the war on terror, a senior military official said. Ukraine has about 900 troops serving in Iraq in Multinational Division Central South and provides blanket overflight clearance for missions to Afghanistan.
Ukraine also will soon begin participating in antiterrorist naval patrols in the Mediterranean Sea as part of Operation Active Endeavor.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is beginning "to behave like an ally" in other ways as well, an official said, including providing airlift for missions in support of Darfur, Sudan, and relief efforts in response to the Pakistan earthquake and the U.S.'s Hurricane Katrina.
"This team is really kicking," the official noted.
After meeting today with Rumsfeld, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus told reporters that based on his country's experience in working toward and gaining admission to NATO, he's convinced that Ukraine can do the same.
Adamkus vowed to continue helping Ukraine maintain its forward momentum, including helping it with the critical task of educating its people about the value of joining the alliance and gaining their support.
Rumsfeld told reporters he expects to see "a substantial movement in support of NATO" within Ukraine "as some of the myths and misunderstandings and misinformation are expelled."
During an Oct. 20 address to the Diplomatic Academy in Kyiv, Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer praised Ukraine's advances on the political and economic fronts as well. These reforms are factored into NATO eligibility criteria.
De Hoop Scheffer cited Ukraine's dramatic improvements made this year in promoting freedom of the media, as well as progress in opening political programs to debate and enabling what he called "a vibrant parliamentary opposition" to take shape.
Ultimately, all political forces in Ukraine "need to demonstrate that they are willing to be able to build strong, reliable democratic institutions and to keep these institutions free from corruption," he said.
NATO-Ukraine relations date back to 1991, when Ukraine joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council immediately after gaining independence. That organization was later renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.
Three years later, Ukraine became the first member of the Commonwealth of Independent States to join the Partnership for Peace program. That program promotes security and defense cooperation between NATO and partner countries.
Since then, the 1997 NATO-Ukraine Charter on a Distinctive Partnership formalized NATO-Ukraine relations, identifying areas for consultation and cooperation. These include peace-support operations and security, defense security sector reform, economic aspects of defense, military-to-military cooperation, armaments, civil emergency planning and scientific and environmental cooperation, officials said.