Ukraine’s parliament has voted to drop its “non-aligned” status and seek deeper cooperation with Nato, to meet the criteria for membership. Unsurprisingly, Kiev’s move has angered Moscow, which called it “counter-productive”, accusing Nato of trying to turn Ukraine into a “frontline of confrontation”. Ukrainian anger at Russia — which annexed Crimea after protests dislodged pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych and allegedly began aiding the rebel-led insurgency in the eastern part of the country — is understandable. But Kiev’s determination to ally itself with the West is not going to result in an overnight Nato membership. It may take several years for the EU to countenance Ukrainian entry.
On the ground, this development may complicate the focus on politically solving the crisis in eastern Ukraine. It comes too soon after the talks in Minsk that mitigated but didn’t stop the fighting in which more than 5,000 have died. Given Russia’s traditional hostility to Nato’s eastward expansion, the West — and the crisis-ridden EU in particular — need to consider the costs of Ukrainian entry and its impact on the fragile geopolitical balance.
Ukraine’s economy is in more trouble than Russia’s, which has been hit by sanctions and falling oil prices. Economically, Ukraine is still umbilically tied to Russia. Cheap Russian gas and easy payment subsidised the Ukrainian economy, while Russia bought goods manufactured by Ukraine’s dwindling industry. This amounted to bilateral trade exceeding Ukraine’s trade with the EU, where it exports only raw materials and agricultural produce under quotas. Ukrainians also work in Russia. So, any attempt to pull Kiev into an alliance against Moscow must fill the vacuum a complete severance with Russia would leave. There’s no evidence yet the EU or Nato would go so far.