The West, including NATO and EU
The NATO-Ukraine relationship dates back to 1991, soon after Ukraine’s independence when it joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Ukraine joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace in 1994. In 1997, the NATO-Ukraine Charter on a Distinctive Partnership identified areas for consultation and cooperation, and established the NATO-Ukraine Commission. A NATO-Ukraine Action Plan was adopted in 2002, and an Intensified Dialogue launched in 2005.
After the 2004 Orange Revolution, there were some Ukrainian hopes of rapid integration into NATO and perhaps even the EU. Relations with Europe were set back, however, when the pro-Russia Party of Regions entered the government. Ukraine ended its 2-year deployment of 1,650 troops in Iraq in 2005, fulfilling a Yanukovych election promise.
Although strongly supported by the U.S., Ukraine was not offered a Membership Action Plan at the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit. The Summit did pledge, however, that Ukraine would eventually be offered membership. Still, the impact of the Russian-Georgia War of 2008 and strident Russian opposition have reduced support among key NATO members like Germany and France for Ukrainian entry into the Alliance. In addition, while Yushchenko was a strong advocate, Tymoshenko was not. Pointing to Russian opposition and domestic divisions, she stated at a 2009 NATO Security Conference that participation in some kind of all-European collective security system in which Russia was a full participant might be the best option for Ukraine.
During the first NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting in 2010, following formation of a new more Moscow-friendly government, Ukraine made clear that it wished to maintain its current level of cooperation with the Alliance, fulfill existing agreements, and implement partnership programs.
In 2010, President Yanukovych signed legislation asserting a non-bloc policy (despite agreeing to the extension of the lease for Russian bases in the Crimea), apparently dropping interest in membership in NATO.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has continued to co-host, together with the United States, the annual two-week long Partnership for Peace “Sea Breeze” joint air, naval and land military exercises in the Black Sea area, which included 15 NATO and Middle East countries in its 15th iteration in 2012.
BLACK SEA, July 12, 2012. Ukrainian navy frigate Hetman Sahaydachniy (U 130) leads Turkish navy patrol boats TCG Kalkan (P 331), TCG Tufan (P 333), and the Georgian coast guard vessel Sokhumi (P 24) during a ship handling exercise during Exercise Sea Breeze 2012 (SB12). SB12, co-hosted by the Ukrainian and U.S. navies, aims to improve maritime safety, security and stability engagements in the Black Sea by enhancing the capabilities of Partnership for Peace and Black Sea regional maritime security forces. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Jamieson/Released)
Yanukovych approved the Annual National Program of Ukraine-NATO cooperation for 2013.
With respect to the recent Ukraine-Russia crisis, NATO allies have continued to express their full support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. NATO pledges to support the efforts of Ukraine to pursue a political path that meets the aspirations of the people in all regions of Ukraine without external interference.
In response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko has signed a law abandoning Ukraine’s neutral non-bloc status, declaring that Ukrainians will decide whether the country should seek NATO membership once it meets the standards of the military alliance.
Association and free trade agreements with Ukraine were ready for signing by 2012, but the EU delayed in part in protest against political use of the judiciary against former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Lutsenko. The outcome of the February 2013 EU-Ukraine Summit appeared to be that the agreements could be signed at the November EU Neighborhood Summit if Ukraine made progress on key issues. To the EU, this meant releasing Tymoshenko, and making progress on adapting Ukrainian law to EU norms on corruption, justice, and electoral reform.
Yanukovych pardoned Lutsenko and former Minister of the Environment Heorhiy Filpchuk in April 2013, receiving from the EU a cautious but positive reaction accompanied by criticism for selective justice. The European Council approved a visa facilitation agreement and took preparatory steps for signing the association and free trade agreements in November. Still, Kyiv was expected to do more on the key issues to enable the signings to take place.
Yanukovych suspends negotiations with EU
In a surprising November 2013 reversal just prior to the Neighborhood Summit, Ukraine suspended talks with the EU on the agreements. The same day, Ukraine's parliament rejected draft laws that would have allowed Tymoshenko to leave the country for medical treatment. Ukraine Prime Minister Azarov said the decision to suspend the talks was motivated solely by economics, including placing blame on the International Monetary Fund for overly tough terms for assistance Ukraine needs to deal with its financial problems. However, many condemned the rejection as a political move to appease Russia, who vehmently disagreed with the deal. The move sparked massive demonstrations in Kyiv in addition to international backlash, as US Secrety of State Kerry canceled a long-planned visit to Ukraine in December 2013 to demonstrate American irritation with the move.
The EU broke off talks with Ukraine in mid-December, with EU enlargement chief Stefan Fule all but calling Yanukovych a liar, and saying resumption of talks depended on a clear signal from the government that it intended to go forward to sign an agreement. This followed statements by Yanukovych to EU foreign policy chief Ashton and U.S. Assistant secretary of State Nuland that he intended to sign an agreement with the EU and not join the Russia-backed customs union.
Yanukovych's response after a December visit to Moscow to meet with Putin was an agreement to receive $15 billion in loans and a sharp reduction in natural gas prices from Russia. Russia made an initial $3 billion purchase of Ukrainian bonds, suspended purchases for a month, then made another purchase of $2 billion in February 2014.
Poroshenko and the EU
Ukraine’s relationship with the EU changed dramatically under Poroshenko. The President signed the economic part of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement (the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area chapter) on June 27, 2014, which many considered the beginning of Ukrainian integration into the European Union. Ukraine urged the EU to play a larger supporting role in the ongoing conflict with Russia. In March, 2015, the European Union approved three Macro-Financial Assistance operations to Ukraine totaling over $685 million, and in May, 2015, the European Investment Bank agreed to provide approximately $225 million in loans to Ukraine. Still, the EU remains reluctant to provide more than economic advisement and assistance.
Western responses to Russian occupation of Crimea and continuing pressure on Ukraine
The United States
U.S. President Barack Obama, right, shakes hands with Ukraine president-elect Petro Poroshenko in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, at a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of Poland's return to democracy. (VOA)
President Obama authorized sanctions and visa restrictions against those responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. He met with Ukrainian Prime Minster Yatsenyuk in Washington, and warned that Russia would face costs if it didn't shift gears on Ukraine. Obama and Yatsenyuk also outlined a plan to defuse the crisis by starting a dialogue between Kiev and Moscow on the status of Crimea. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Kerry visited Kyiv as well to show support for the new Ukrainian government.
The US approved a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine; and suspended military exercises, port visits and planning meetings, as well as called off trade talks with Russia. Vice President Biden also made a visit to Kyiv in a continuing demonstration of U.S. support, which included an additional package of $50 million and technical assistance. The United States has also committed millions of dollars in non-lethal aid to Ukraine, including drones, communications and medical equipment, and transportation equipment.
The U.S. is also deploying small ground forces units to Poland and the Baltic states in exercises to underline NATO resolve against possible Russian pressure against alliance members.
Relations between the United States and Russia have been strained as a result of Russia's ongoing aggression in Crimea. The US has been outspoken in its disapproval of Russia’s actions and has enacted economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia that Putin has vehemently opposed. However, the United States’ first high-level visit to Russia in May 2015 suggests that the relationship may be improving.
The EU announced aid packages to Ukraine in loans, grants, and credits over the next two years. In addition, the EU suspended bilateral talks with Russia on visa matters and agreed to a framework of asset freezes and travel bans.
The US and Europeans also suspended Russia from the G8 group in March 2014. Decisions on further sanctions against Russia were taken by both the United States and European Council in July 2014. The European Council agreed to prepare additional sanctions and restrictive measures on Russian access to European capital markets, defense and dual use items, and sensitive technology, if Russia does not stop the supply of weapons, equipment and militants to Ukraine and withdraw the additional troops it has deployed to the border area.
The UN passed Resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity on Ukraine, confirming Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. The IMF provided loans to Ukraine to mitigate the ensuing economic crisis.
Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine
The Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) on Ukraine was formed following the election of President Petro Poroshenko in May, 2014. It is comprised of representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE and operates to facilitate a diplomatic resolution to the war in Eastern Ukraine. The group has conducted ongoing talks between the parties since June, 2014 and was instrumental in negotiating ceasefires, most notably the Minsk Protocol. The TCG continues to work closely with monitoring the ongoing ceasefire and mitigating the impacts of violations
Attempts to strengthen the Minsk II Ceasfire Agreement (February 2015)
On March 6, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steimeier stated that Russia and Ukraine had agreed to double the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine. The size of the overall mission increased to 1,000 personnel, although the OSCE continued to face obstacles in gaining access to many of the key areas covered by the February 12th ceasefire.
On April 17, 300 U.S. troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived in Western Ukraine for a six-month training mission known as Operation Fearless Guardian. This training mission had been postponed from earlier in 2014 in order not to become an obstacle in the implementation of the Minsk II ceasefire agreement. The United States and Britain are the only states to deploy trainers to Ukraine. The arrival of the American paratroopers was strongly condemned by Vladimir Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov who claimed that the movement could "destabilize the situation."