Concern about Ukraine increases regional desire for NATO membership

08/05/2014

Senior officials from Southeast Europe, noting their concerns about events in Ukraine, said NATO membership is a key policy priority for the region.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 08/05/14

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Ukraine police leave a government building in Mariupol after it is overrun by Kremlin-backed separatists. Unrest in Ukraine is making the prospect of NATO membership more attractive for some countries in the region. [AFP]

As Kremlin-supported separatists plan an illegal referendum that threatens to pull Ukraine apart, officials say NATO membership is becoming more attractive for many nations in the region.

"The way to achieve this is lined with obstacles, but NATO membership would be a significant step in the right direction. Much like Ukraine, the Balkans are at a decisive political moment, and it is important that the region gets the next step right," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin said at a recent Atlantic Council Discussion group meeting in Washington.

Former Macedonia Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski told SETimes that the upcoming NATO summit in September should be an opportunity for the countries of the region.

"If Georgia and Ukraine had joined NATO before now, what happened in Georgia and what is happening now in Ukraine would have been impossible. I think all this should be a lesson," Buckovski said.

Many in the Balkans are carefully following events in Ukraine, where Kremlin-supported separatists overran government buildings in many municipalities. Dozens have died in fighting as government forces responded.

Following Russia's annexation of Crimea -- which has not been recognised by much of the rest the world even though Moscow essentially controls the peninsula -- insurgents are now planning a referendum demanding autonomy from Kiev.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the referendum would not be recognised in the West, which supports Ukraine's plan for a nationwide election on May 25th.

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Joining NATO would bring security to the region and to Europe, experts said. [AFP]

"We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine," Kerry said, after a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "Its pursuit will create even more problems in the effort to try to de-escalate the situation."

He added: "This is really the Crimea playbook all over again, and no civilised nation is going to recognise the results of such a bogus effort."

According to experts, interest in NATO is a response to Russian activities in Ukraine.

"Learning from the example of Ukraine, countries further increased their aspirations for membership in NATO to preserve the stability of the country and deter initiated aggression. You have to ask the question if Russia has affinities to return to the old boundaries," Vasko Nikolovski, a professor of security at MIT University in Skopje, told SETimes.

Authorities in the region said NATO membership will also have a positive effect on the economic climate and attract more investment in the region.

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"In order to maintain the peace and relaxation of the overall situation with Ukraine, especially in western Balkan countries, I think completing the NATO enlargement process in the region is of great importance. Membership in NATO is a military, security and economic stabilising factor," Sefik Dzaferovic, deputy chairman of the Joint Commission for Safety of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH, told SETimes.

In a statement, NATO told SETimes the Ukraine situation would not impact future expansion.

"The crisis in Ukraine is about Russia violating international law. NATO membership is about expanding security and stability in Europe, and we remain committed to this," the organisation said in the statement.

Does NATO membership guarantee stability for the region? Why or why not? Tell us your thoughts.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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