NATO still isn’t ready to admit Ukraine as a full member — that was the conclusion reached by international experts during a recent webinar.

Although Ukraine has talked about NATO membership since 2002 and participated in NATO-led operations, it is still not a member and likely won’t be for perhaps another decade or more.

Oleh Shamshur, Ukraine’s former ambassador to the United States and France, said that Ukraine had done to achieve membership but there’s still room for improvement.

Alexander Vershbow, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and former deputy secretary-general of NATO, echoed Shamshur’s words, saying Ukrainians shouldn’t expect NATO membership anytime soon.

“Don’t raise public expectations in Ukraine too high — I am afraid that was the case in 2020,” Vershbow said during a webinar held on March 2 by the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, a 200-member association that includes the Kyiv Post. “Ukraine should not expect major movement on the membership action plan in 2021.”

Many in NATO acknowledge Ukraine’s defense and security reforms but are also disappointed by setbacks in the country’s anti-corruption fight, according to Vershbow.

In spring 2021, NATO will review its 2030 roadmap and may develop a membership action plan for Ukraine, Vershbow said. For now, “Ukraine needs to keep participating in NATO exercises… and the public opinion of NATO should remain strong.”

Besides, NATO still has not figured out how to make Ukraine a member without provoking further aggression from Russia. This is NATO’s main task before considering a full membership, Vershbow said.

Steven Pifer, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, agreed that NATO has to figure out how exactly it can accept Ukraine while the country is at war with Russia in the eastern Donbas.

“What happens if NATO makes a Ukraine membership action plan, and the next week, Russia tries to grab another part of Ukraine?” Pifer said. “There is no answer to that yet.”

Ukraine-US relations

The new U.S. administration has pledged to support Ukraine against Russian aggression.

“The U.S. is with Ukraine, it will do what it can to pull it in the right direction,” Vershbow said, adding that Ukraine can rely on the U.S. under President Joe Biden, which will “push back harder on Russian aggression.”

Shamshur said that the U.S. assisting Ukraine in countering Russian aggression is a good sign. 

The cooperation between Ukraine and the U.S. isn’t just limited to military and defense — American sanctions can be an important tool to hold back Russian aggression and the pending completion of the Nord Stream 2 project.

The $11 billion pipeline, which goes under the Baltic Sea and would double the amount of natural gas transported from Russia to Europe, has been under construction since 2015. 

For now, much of Russian gas goes to Europe through Ukraine’s transit system. In 2019, Ukraine and Russia signed a five-year $7 billion agreement to ensure a fixed minimum volume of gas transported through Ukraine after the construction of Nord Stream 2. The amount is 40 billion cubic meters through 2024.

Once operational, Nord Stream 2 will increase Europe’s dependence on Russia at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin wages war in eastern Ukraine and faces country-wide protests over the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

“With Nord Stream 2, there is a possibility to act decisively… to kill this geopolitical beast of Putin,” Shamshur said. “But it’s not that simple, there is no clear solution.”

The U.S. does not approve of the project and imposed numerous sanctions on the companies involved in its construction. “Nord Stream 2 is a geopolitical not a commercial project. It is built to cut Ukraine out,” Pifer said.

According to Pifer, Nord Stream 2 will not bring new gas to Germany, because the pipelines via Ukraine, Belarus and other countries are already transporting enough gas from Russia to the European Union. 

Additionally, gas demand in the EU is declining.

Shamshur said that “unless we shut down this project… it is not going to stop being poisonous, not only for us, but for inter-Atlantic relationships.”

To watch the fool video of U.S.-Ukraine Business Council webinar "Ukraine and the United States: Vital Allies. What is the Future of this Relationship?", please follow the link: