The Atlantic Alliance has reaffirmed its commitment to support the development of Ukraine in the difficult years to come. This was the clear message from NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, who spoke on 31 October at a media conference in Kyiv in the presence of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He stated that NATO and its 29 allies will continue to provide political as well as practical support and that he hopes that a peaceful solution can be found for the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Secretary General and the North Atlantic Council (NAC) visited the cities of Odesa and Kyiv on 30-31 October, with Stoltenberg and the NATO Ambassadors visiting the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two. Four NATO mine countermeasures vessels from Bulgaria, Italy, Romania and Spain will be docked in the port of Odesa, as part of their patrolling of the Black Sea.
The Secretary General also delivered a keynote speech at Ukraine’s Maritime Academy in Odesa, underlining NATO’s support for the academy, including training aboard allied ships and support for logistics. He encouraged the cadets, saying that “you are the future of this navy, you are the next generation of Ukrainian leaders and you are also citizens of a free and democratic Ukraine.”
On 31 October he chaired a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC), which was attended by President Zelenskyy. The NUC discussed the security situation in and around Ukraine, the reform process within the country and progress in the NATO-Ukraine partnership. In a statement for the media, the Commission emphasised “This visit is a strong demonstration of NATO’s unwavering support to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.”
The Commission favours resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine by diplomatic means, in accordance with the Minsk Agreements, which need to be fully implemented by all parties. Since Russia is key to security in the region, the NUC sent a strong message to Moscow. “We urge Russia to cease all political, financial and military support to militant groups and to stop intervening militarily in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and to withdraw troops, equipment and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine and to return to the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination.”
In addition, the Commission referred to the fragile situation in the Crimean Peninsula “We strongly condemn and will not recognise Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea. Crimea is the territory of Ukraine. We call on Russia to return control of Crimea to Ukraine. We condemn Russia’s ongoing and wide-ranging military build-up in Crimea, which is part of the larger pattern of Russian aggressive actions in the region.”
NATO Allies are also deeply concerned by the human rights abuses and violations being carried out by the Russian de-facto authorities in Crimea against all Ukrainians, including Crimean Tatars. Therefore, they called on Russia to grant international monitoring organisations access to Crimea. NATO’s response to address Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine has been in support of an overall international effort, which included sanctions. NATO underlined that there can be no “business as usual” until there is a clear, constructive change in Russia’s actions, which demonstrate compliance with international law as well as its obligations and responsibilities.
The Commission welcomed the fact that, as part of a simultaneous release of prisoners agreed by Ukraine and Russia, the 24 Ukrainian servicemen and 11 other Ukrainian prisoners detained by Russia were able to return home last month. This is considered to be another step in the right direction. However, the Commission called on Russia to return the captured vessels and to comply with its international commitments by ensuring unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov and allowing freedom of navigation.
The Black Sea region is of strategic importance to the Atlantic Alliance and its partners. Therefore, the Allies welcomed the developing dialogue and cooperation between NATO and Ukraine on regional security. In line with the April decision of the NATO Foreign Ministers, Allies have enhanced their support to Ukraine, including cooperation with its navy, situational awareness, port visits, exercises and sharing of information. Allies will also continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to strengthen its resilience against potential hybrid threats, including through intensifying activities under the NATO-Ukraine Platform on Countering Hybrid Warfare.
In light of Ukraine’s restated aspirations for NATO membership, the Alliance will stand by its decisions taken at the Bucharest Summit. Both sides will work together to enhance their distinctive partnership under the NATO-Ukraine Commission, which will contribute to building a stable, peaceful and undivided Europe. According to the Commission, an independent, sovereign and stable Ukraine is absolutely key for the Euro-Atlantic security.
Dr Theodor Benien