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Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Sunday Sinecure: Ukraine's Victory in Bucharest

Radio Free Europe has the fascinating details on Russia's devastating losses at the NATO summit in Romania last week:

Georgia and Ukraine had no reason to feel optimistic heading into NATO summit talks on April 3. After a long and fractious dinner the night before, member states had failed to reach an agreement on whether the two post-Soviet states should receive Membership Action Plans. And indeed, none were offered. But what came instead, in some corners, was considered even better.

Day 3

Twelve hours. Two announcements. One nerve-wracking political roller coaster ride for Georgia and Ukraine.

Just before midnight on April 2, Kyiv and Tbilisi got the disappointing news from NATO officials that they would not get their coveted Membership Action Plans (MAP) in Bucharest. My colleagues from RFE/RL's Georgian and Ukrainian services bravely tried to hide their funk on the long bus ride from the conference venue to our hotel after watching NATO spokesman James Appathurai's remarks to that effect at a late-night press conference.

There could still be some compromise, I said. All the signs were there. There was Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's comment to RFE/RL on April 2 that a solution was in sight.

And even as he said that a MAP was unlikely, Appathurai revealed that the allies still needed to agree on "language" regarding the Georgian and Ukrainian bids. What could that mean? Was an alternative offer -- a kind of MAP lite, a map to a MAP -- in the works?

But then again, I had to agree with my Georgian and Ukrainian colleagues -- it was hard to imagine anything short of a full-fledged MAP that wouldn't look like a rejection. NATO appeared to have caved in the face of Russian pressure.

By lunchtime on April 3, everything had changed.

Rumors had been swirling through the cavernous corridors and vast halls of Bucharest's Palace of Parliament all morning that something was in the works.

By the time NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer addressed the media in the early afternoon (hours later than scheduled), it appeared that Georgia and Ukraine would get more than they hoped for.

There would be no MAP at this time, that was true. But there would be what sounded like a pretty firm commitment of eventual membership. Not a firm commitment for MAPs -- but actual membership. All the key players who famously opposed the MAP this time around were on board, including Germany and France.

Moreover, NATO foreign ministers have been instructed to assess Kyiv and Tbilisi's progress in December 2008 and have authority to issue formal MAPs as early as then -- provided the progress was sufficient. It would all be in an official protocol by the evening, we were told.

The mood in the Georgian and Ukrainian delegations pivoted on a dime, from bitter disappointment to unexpected elation. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Ukraine had "broken the sound barrier." Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili called the announcement a "geopolitical coup."

One top Georgian official, speaking on background, told my colleagues from RFE/RL's Georgian Service that the decision was even better than getting a MAP. They would be admitted to NATO after all. The only question was when.

One can't help but wonder whether this was what was supposed to happen all along. Given German and French objections, few expected Georgia and Ukraine to get MAPs here in Bucharest. I expected them to come no sooner than at NATO's 60th anniversary summit next year.

But U.S. President George W. Bush's recent statements, climaxing with his speech in Bucharest on April 1, raised expectations to a degree that the NATO allies were not prepared for. One Polish journalist told me that the general sense -- even among the staunchly pro-American Poles -- was that Washington came on much too strong and ended up harming Georgia and Ukraine's cases.

Perhaps. But given how it all turned out, perhaps not. Georgia and Ukraine, after all, seem to have gotten more than they expected. Would this have happened without the U.S. push?

Now all eyes are on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to attend a session of the NATO-Russia Council on April 4.

It was widely assumed that Putin would not show up if the MAPs were issued -- just as he spurned the 2002 summit in Prague to protest Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia receiving invitations to join the Western alliance.

MAPs were not issued today, but Putin cannot be happy with how things turned out. Even as journalists elsewhere adjusted to a rosier forecast for Tbilisi and Kyiv, the message blaring from Russia's ORT remained stubbornly downcast: "NATO has closed the door on Ukraine and Georgia."

As I wrote this diary, one of my colleagues from RFE/RL's Russian Service burst into my office. "Are you watching the video feed from the airport?" she asked. It appeared that an official Russian plane had landed, but appeared to be turning around on the runway.

Was it Putin's plane? If so, was he going to take off and fly back to Moscow in protest? I couldn't help but recall Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov turning his Washington-bound plane around in mid-flight over the Atlantic Ocean in March 1999 to protest NATO's decision to use force against Serbia over Kosovo.

As it turned out, it wasn't Putin's plane quibbling on the runway, but an advance team from the Kremlin, and it stayed firmly on the ground. It appears Putin will show up after all. What will he say when he gets here? Watch this space.

Day Two

The press center was silent as U.S. President George W. Bush delivered a morning address on April 2 from the Palace of the Deposit and Savings Bank. The president was visible on the live television feed, but it was hard to understand what he was saying. The sound wasn't working.

Security guards are ubiquitous. Two were stalking the floor of my hotel, occupied mainly, I thought, by fairly nonthreatening journalists. Their uniforms were startlingly reminiscent of Soviet-era train conductors. Will they offer me tea? I wondered.

Guards are also a constant presence in the media center, located in the cavernous, 3,000-room Parliament Palace. I keep getting lost. Every room looks the same.

As I was trying to find our studio, I wandered into a stairwell to call my colleagues. I noticed one of these vigilant uniformed men leaning over me. “Can I help you?” I asked. “No,” he retorted. “Can I help you?”

No thanks.

A funny joke is making the rounds among Georgian journalists. Since Greece is blocking Macedonia’s NATO bid over its name, maybe Georgia will run into the same problem. The U.S. state of Georgia, as part of the United States, has been part of NATO since 1949, after all. Will Washington block Tbilisi’s bid over this?

Matthew Bryza, a State Department official responsible, in part, for the South Caucasus, spoke to a group of Georgian journalists. The one question in those quarters, of course, is whether Tbilisi will be offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP) in Bucharest.

Bryza spoke moments after a fiery speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who hotly disputed the wisdom of offering Georgia a MAP. Bryza was just as dismissive of Lavrov's concerns.

"Foreign Minister Lavrov is entitled to his own opinion and so is the Russian Federation," Bryza said. "But Russia is not a member of NATO and Russia has absolutely no possibility, no right to veto the membership or even the Membership Action Plan of any candidate. Georgia is a European country. Georgia has fulfilled the requirements to become a recipient of the Membership Action Plan, so Russia should have no impact at all on that decision, which has to be taken by the members of the alliance."

Day One

The first sign of trouble came on April 1, April Fool's Day, at the airport.

One day before hundreds of heads of state, government officials, and NATO authorities were due to land, there was not a single taxi in evidence at Henri Coanda International Airport. Nor, we were told, would there be any.

Finally, a helpful young man at a NATO information kiosk told me and my colleagues to take a special bus to the accreditation center, get credentialed, and then take another bus to the hotel. That sounded like a good plan -- at least until we got to the accreditation center.

After passing through a chaotic security gauntlet and metal detector, we lined up to get our media credentials. My colleagues from the Ukrainian and Russian services sailed through. I, meanwhile, was told there were problems.

What problems? How long would it take? I couldn’t get a straight answer. Brussels was working on it. Three hours later, I was told that everything was okay with my accreditation, but that the printer that produced the press badges was now broken.

Yes, that's one printer -- in the singular. It had been sent out to another building for repair. How long would that take? Maybe five minutes, maybe hours. There was no way to know for sure.

I settled in and acquainted myself with colleagues in the same unhappy boat -- a woman from the BBC, a man from Voice of America, a Swede, a Dane, and a woman from U.S. National Public Radio.

At least we were in good company. I later found out from my colleague in the Ukrainian Service that two members of President Viktor Yushchenko's own press corps had likewise been denied accreditation.

At 7 p.m., I finally had my prized press badge -- but the media center was closed. So much for filing an early dispatch. I found a bus to my hotel and then spent 30 minutes on the street, waiting for a massive motorcade to crawl its way through the city.

A phalanx of Romanian police officers kept us glued in our places. "Stay here! Stay here!" they shouted. Finally, one annoyed reporter shouted back: "We are here! We are here!"


Anonymous said...

Why do you claim Ukraine was victorious when it was sold out by the West? I thought you were here to expose Western cowardice in face of Russia? Ukraine's president went to get MAP and came back with ... nothing, except this silly communique that says 'later, maybe'.

No thanks for dropping the ball on this one.



La Russophobe said...

We don't think you even read this post. That's very disappointing.

MAP means NOTHING. It is only the right to make an application. The CHIEF OF NATO specifically said, in so many words, that admission was GUARANTEED. If Ukraine got MAP without that guarantee, it would have been LESS than it got.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians are not doing nearly enough to show unified national support for NATO. You yourself should probably be doing much more to work for the cause.

Anonymous said...

Sure the admission is guaranteed. Some time in a future, far far away. If MAP means nothing, why did NATO not give it to Ukraine? Or Georgia?
So not getting the MAP - without which none of the other new NATO members got in - means Ukraine got more? Why then did both Ukraine and Georgia want MAP?

I'm really losing your logic here. Why do you try to make this sound like a positive thing when Russia really managed to scare NATO into not giving MAP? Especially since it means 'nothing'?

No timeline, no MAP, nothing. Just a lousy communique. An promise that has no timeline to it is not worth much.

Again, you should be screaming bloody murder rather than trying to see the 'silver lining' and beautify the betrayal.

As I said, you dropped the ball on this one :(

With friends like these...

Anonymous said...

Something else: if MAP means nothing, why put so much importance on granting of MAP in December? Let's make a bet: They'll find another excuse then not to give MAP to Ukraine and Georgia.

And will you find a reason to see the 'silver lining' on that one again? I'm sure you will.

I really thought you'd be calling this betrayal by name.

So, what will have to happen so that even you can see that this was a betrayal, and that Russia won?

And the missile shield: who cares. The Russians don't give a damn, it's just cheap politics for them. They can pretend to care and make it into a chip for negotiation. Just like Kosovo. As if Russia gave a damn about the Serbs.

So, what will have to happen in December for you to realize Ukraine and Georgia have been sold out?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I forgot to sign the last posts.

It's Gleb again.

Alexander said...

I agree with Gleb. Germany (in a stance that goes against the constitution of the alliance), the country that specifically disallows putting its troops in harms during NATO missions effectively vetoed the MAPs for Ukraine and Georgia. I understand that this "compromise" is strategic and that under pressure from virtually everyone else in the alliance Germany will allow the MAPs for Ukraine and Georgia (who by the way contribute more substance to NATO missions than the freeloader Germany) at a later date, I think this will probably be within the year, although I doubt it will take place in December, I suspect it will take place at next years summit. A MAP is significant because it is the first substantial step towards gaining membership (although it does not guarantee it), however, I agree with you that the statement that Ukraine and Georgia will be members of NATO (if that is what they choose and meet the criteria) is significant and unprecedented.
For NATO (I being a citizen of a member state), I think the most important task is reform and amending the Washington Treaty - it is clearly out of date, and should be amended so that nations that do not make their troops available for combat in NATO missions are given less influence over the future of the alliance (as they can hardly be described as allies, simply fair weather friends), it is just that such countries become marginalised within the alliance until they contribute as others do. Some would say that is would be trying to divide the alliance, I would say such action would distinguish those who are committed to the alliance and those who are simply trying to get the USA (primarily but also the other real allies) to underwrite their defence (and I am not American).

Anonymous said...

So.... Kim, please tell me - at what point will you admit that Ukraine and Georgia were sold down the river?

Why do you defend this? I thought you were a friend. :( With your kind of influence, you should really use it better, because if your interpretation becomes accepted widely, then the democratic forces in Ukraine and Georgia might end up becoming complacent. Why fight hard if you have already won?

Ok, joking aside - not too many are influenced by you, but you have influence in the West, so why not make it clear to our Western friends that we are being sold out?


La Russophobe said...


We strongly disagree with you, and think you sound just like Stalin. We MUST agree YOU, only YOU can be right.

We believe Ukraine won a great victory against Russia in Bucharest, but still has much work to do achieving national unity for the struggle against Russia. You should be working for that goal rather than trying to attack your allies, such as us.

Anonymous said...

ukraine's probably not ready yet anyway: corrupt military, lack of professionalism, basically the same problems as the russian military.
i mean there are standards, right? so ukraine's army can improve, be patient, and eventually she'll join---georgia is far more complicated.
nato membership is important, no doubt---nato has replaced the UN this point as the most important int'l org----

Anonymous said...

Excuse me? You are telling ME I sound like Stalin? If you knew ANYTHING about my family, you would realize how insulting you have just been. Unbelievable. Have you ever heard of the Holodomor? If yes, I hope you know what you just said, and you hopefully feel bad about it.

I'm also a bit taken aback that you do not see it necessary to answer my question on what you would consider a time line by which we could know that the West has not betrayed us.

Why this hostility? Why the insult? Is this how you deal with people who have come to trust you and rely on your work?

I really don't know what to think of that anymore.