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Defense

What Ukraine wants from NATO

The war in eastern Ukraine is the focus of the NATO summit in Wales. The Western military alliance wants to help Kyiv without becoming directly involved in the conflict - dampening expectations in Ukraine.

The alphabetical seating arrangement will ensure that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has strong neighbors at his side. At the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission on the first day of the NATO summit on Thursday in Newport, Wales, the Ukrainian president will have his US counterpart Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron nearby.

Twenty years ago, the United States and Britain gave written security guarantees to the government in Kyiv. Ukraine had inherited the world's third-largest nuclear weapons arsenal from the Soviet Union - and gave it up. Russia also signed the Budapest Memorandum on security guarantees for Ukraine in 1994, but no longer sees itself bound by it today.

Whether the Russian annexation of Crimea or the war against separatists in the east of the country, Ukraine sees itself increasingly involved in an undeclared war with Russia. As a result, the Ukrainian government is seeking protection from Western nations.

Kyiv's calls for help getting louder

Since March, Kyiv has also been asking NATO for help but seen little in the way of response. The Western military alliance sent a small group of civilian advisers to improve the safety of Ukrainian nuclear power plants against possible hostilities. "We have not asked for military aid," then-Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia said.

Ukrainian tank
(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich )

The Ukrainian army says it is now facing Russian troops

But the longer the fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, the louder the cries for help from Kyiv become. NATO responded in June by setting up funds to help modernize the Ukrainian army. These projects amount to a maximum of 14 million euros ($18.4 million), according to NATO figures. The money will be available over the next two to three years and is earmarked for the development of command structures, logistics and cyber protection.

In August, Deshchytsia's successor, Pavlo Klimkin, the first time called for NATO military aid during a radio interview in Germany. The alliance has so far been restrained in its response. It would not be possible to provide military assistance as an organization, such as supplying weapons, because this was a matter for individual states, the outgoing NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

Hope for the US and eastern Europe

What exactly NATO can do for Ukraine will now be decided at the summit in Wales. Poroshenko said his country does not need foreign troops. Instead, he asked for information from Western intelligence agencies, as well as non-lethal supplies.

But Valentin Badrak, director of the Kyiv Center for Army Studies, said Ukraine needs heavy weapons from abroad.

"The Ukrainian army has not been upgraded in 23 years," he told DW. "First, we need anti-tank guided missiles and drones, secondly helicopters and stronger air defense systems."

Badrak described the current situation in eastern Ukraine as "critical," saying in a war with Russia and the Russian army, Ukraine's military would be vastly inferior. "Without Western aid, it could happen that Ukraine would no longer exist as an independent state on the map," he added.

Valentin Badrak
(cc-by-News UTR)

Badrak: Ukraine needs Western help now

The West is reacting too slowly, Badrak said, adding that he did not expect much from the NATO summit in Wales. He said Ukraine had a better chance of concrete help when the Ukrainian president visits the United States in mid-September. Since Ukraine needs help quickly, eastern European countries, such as Poland or Romania, could also supply Soviet-designed weapons to Ukraine, which the countries could replace with new and modern weapons for themeselves, Badrak suggested.

More and more Ukrainians want to join NATO

Two factors would slow any NATO assistance for Ukraine, observers in Kyiv have said. First, the Western military alliance is trying not to provoke Russia. Secondly, Ukraine is not a NATO member and is not entitled to military support from the 28 member states.

Ukraine has, however, been seeking NATO membership for over 10 years. But at the summit in Bucharest in 2008, Ukraine's pro-Western president at the time, Viktor Yushchenko, suffered a setback. NATO decided that while Ukraine could become a member, it would not give a specific date when the country could join the alliance. Yushchenko's successor, pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, ended the country's efforts toward NATO membership.

Since the recent change of government in Kyiv, the new president has persuaded a course of Euro-Atlantic integration. The government wants to enact legislation abandoning Ukraine's neutral status.

The rapprochement with NATO now has more support among Ukrainians than before. In a May survey, 47 percent of Ukrainians polls said they supported NATO membership for their country. Some 36 percent were opposed. In April, it was exactly the opposite.

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