Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze: Ukraine’s EU, NATO membership to guarantee security within Europe and Alliance

Hesitation and delays in assistance to Ukraine that the Ukrainians are seeing on the part of some allies undermine the certainty of the civilized world that Russia’s aggression will be repelled, Russia will be held to account, and justice will be done. We sit down with Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Ukraine’s Integration into the European Union, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine on European and Euroatlantic integration (2016-2019) to talk about why Ukraine has been consistently fighting for its right to EU and NATO membership, and why the EU and NATO will become stronger if Ukraine joins. Below are the highlights from the conversation.

Europe is Ukraine’s way back home

What is Europe for us? It’s a house, culture, civilization, history, and way of thinking that we belonged to for centuries. Since 2014, after the Revolution of Dignity, the Ukrainians have been pursuing by choice the goal of returning home. Unfortunately, in the years when Ukraine was dominated by Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, Russia made all efforts to steal the Ukrainian identity, our civilizational identity, our history, and to present it as fictional Russian history, to destroy and annihilate what makes us different from other nations that were conquered by the empire throughout the time. Europe is Ukraine’s conscious choice of freedom. I would mention a banner towering over the Maidan Nezalezhnosti central square during the Revolution of Dignity that read: “Freedom is our religion”. The choice of freedom is at the core of the Ukrainian spirit and has manifested itself in many ways over the course of our history. It’s about mutual respect and tolerance to other opinions that the Ukrainians have had throughout the history. These are Christian ethics typical of Ukraine and an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians.

Ukraine’s EU membership to strengthen Europe

Ukraine’s path to the EU is a way toward security. At the same time, Europe cannot have security without Ukraine. Ukraine’s membership in the European Union and NATO will guarantee security for Ukraine as much as for Europe and NATO. We need to clearly understand that it is our common interest.

Ukraine’s integration into the European Union would result in a Europe growing economically stronger. It would also make Europe a stronger geopolitical actor and bolster its security and military capabilities. Today some try to portray Ukraine as a threat to EU’s economy. Ukrainian agricultural products compete in international markets, even when Ukrainian farmers cultivate their land and harvest crops under attacks, in situations of physical danger. The state offers almost no incentives or subsidies to agricultural businesses.

Ukrainian agricultural products are entering the EU market with no duties. The European Union applies a zero import duty on almost all kinds of agricultural foods from Ukraine. The exemption is valid until June 5, 2024. The European Union took this step in 2022 [after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine – edit.]. In June 2023, it extended the measures until 2024. There has been an ongoing discussion about how to limit imports from Ukraine.

I am saddened to see that our farmers and representatives of agricultural companies who have put their efforts into the products are being blamed for unfair competition. For decades, the growth of the European agricultural market was powered by giant subsidies. Ukrainian products in the EU market will change EU’s common agricultural policy in the long run. Initially, many EU member states could face difficulties. In the medium and long term, the agricultural sector across Europe will get more efficient and EU’s economy will strengthen. The Ukrainians will help achieve that target.

The attractiveness of the European project began to fade, in geopolitical terms, around ten years ago. In the meantime the Ukrainians have revived the faith of the Europeans in themselves, demonstrating readiness to protect the values and statements that, unfortunately, for many in Europe continue to be just slogans. [The Europeans have realized that] the pillars of their life are worth being protected, they are worth all efforts and a feat. The Europeans of the four post-war generations are taking for granted what the Ukrainians have to fight for today, paying for it with blood. This strengthens the value of democratic principles and freedoms that are at the heart of Europe. This brings back the original value that was at the core of the European Union when it was established after World War II. The Ukrainians have reminded the Europeans of that. Initially, the union began as a free common market. It evolved into what it is today thanks to the values at its core, the ones that the Ukrainians are dusting off today, helping the Europeans reclaim the significance of the values.

Many say that, while Russia is waging a war against Ukraine, Ukraine’s integration with the European Union and NATO could carry additional risks for the member states. This is not true. If we join efforts and don’t let the Russian monster win, if we achieve its strategic defeat, it will make us all much stronger from the military standpoint. It will make impossible a new Russian attack on the free world.

EU membership prospect helps Ukraine stay a democracy in times of war

The spirit of the Ukrainian society and its history say that Ukraine will not be able to develop unless it is a democracy. Elections in Ukraine’s modern history have always been fair and transparent. When they weren’t like that, the Ukrainian people spoke out. That is what happened when the votes cast at the [2004] presidential election when Yanukovych and Yushchenko faced each other, were falsified during the count. A third round of elections was held, and that was a solution.
It clearly shows how much having a choice matters to the Ukrainians. Secondly, the Ukrainians are able to elect new leaders, accept the change, and stand behind their choice if their opinion is not considered. After Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014, annexed Crimea and occupied the eastern part of the country, we did not introduce martial law or limit people’s rights and freedoms in the government-controlled area in any way. On the contrary, those were the times when opportunities blossomed for various [state-building and civil society] initiatives, and the system of checks and balances was established and strengthened. The system is paramount to fostering freedom of speech, impact of civil society initiatives and vitality of the civil society in Ukraine. Since martial law was imposed in 2022, some freedoms and rights have been abridged. Elections and freedom of assembly were limited by law, according to the Constitution. In our current situation, we cannot ensure an election process that is competitive and democratic. Candidates would not be able to campaign. It would not be possible to ensure a wide participation of voters or secure the voting rights of those who are fighting in the front lines or those who have found refuge outside Ukraine. These are the reasons why, unfortunately, holding elections that are even close to the OSCE/ODIHR standards is not viable from a legal and practical standpoint.
At the same time, we are witnessing some limitations that possibly lead to excessive centralization of decision making and disrupt the balance between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. In this context, it is important that the European Union has opened membership negotiations with Ukraine. For Ukraine, it’s like being examined under a magnifying glass. The European Union will take a close look at the country’s democratic fundamentals. They are among the first things to be discussed and among the final ones to be evaluated. This attention will bring back to normal many aspects of our abilities and rights that were limited. It concerns freedom of speech, the checks and balances system, and a return to decentralization that is probably a cornerstone of our ability to counter Russian aggression. Accession talks with the EU are Ukraine’s safeguard for democracy. Another safeguard is the Ukrainians themselves. We don’t know when the war will end. But whenever it does, the Ukrainian people will be here ready to protect their beliefs.

No risks for NATO if Ukraine joins Alliance

A lot of politicians from NATO member states say that Ukraine will be a member of the Alliance. But there’s no appetite today to show political leadership, find a creative way to invite Ukraine to become a member during the war, and begin actual work to bring Ukraine closer to the Alliance.
Countries that are NATO leaders don’t have the appetite for that. But we also see a lot of challenges facing the Alliance as elections near in various countries, first of all in the U.S. Today many in Europe begin to envision Europe’s strategic autonomy that it is not yet ready to embrace in terms of resources, equipment, manpower and training.
In his address to the U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in December 2021, Putin clearly stated that his goal is not just Ukraine, but also a return to the 1997 borders. Those borders would cut off Central and Eastern Europe from the Alliance. At the same time, I would also like to remind that Putin has swallowed Sweden’s and Finland’s adhesion to NATO, and no escalation happened.
Similarly, there will be no escalation if Ukraine joins the Alliance. It will be an answer to Putin in the language of strength. It will also mean that he will never call for a return to the 1997 borders or claim the territory of Ukraine. Russia understands the language of [allies’] unity, capabilities, determination and strength. It perceives diplomacy, talks, and attempts to compromise as a language of weakness and an invitation to carry out a new attack. We need to fight off Russia together, and at the same time NATO should invite Ukraine to join the Alliance. Ukraine still has homework to do, it needs to change how the armed forces are managed and the security service is structured. There are other things, and we know what we need to focus on. But those issues can be solved if there is a political decision. This political decision requires leadership. We feel a lack of leadership in the free world today. President Macron’s bold statements are possibly a claim to this leadership. It is important that these claims are backed by actions.
France and the UK could take up the leadership mantle to invite Ukraine to join NATO.

Russia already waging war on NATO soil

Russia is already waging a war on the soil of NATO member states. It uses hybrid methods. The Alliance has realized that Russia is an adversary, but has not labeled it as an enemy. Russia is staging provocations in NATO countries every day, including information operations, cyberattacks, sabotage acts, poisoning and murders. As long as NATO members pretend that this is not a kind of threat that they need to accept and respond to, and that it is enough to contain it and be on the defensive, the threat will persist and grow. Until [the allies] realize that the threat is real and act upon the reality, it will persist. NATO member states need to accept the reality and act upon it. It is only then that everyone in the EU and NATO will understand that development, welfare, personal growth, leisure, vacation plans and dreams in the decades to come are only possible if Ukraine gets support now, and the Russian monster is stopped in Ukraine.
[This is only possible] if Ukraine and allies, together, don’t let Russia advance, force it out of Ukraine, make sure that Russia is defeated, isolated, weakened, and held to account, which is key. [This is only possible] if Ukraine is accepted into the community. There is no other way to achieve a stable and lasting peace on the European continent and around the world. There is still a lack of determination to repel Russia, and assistance to Ukraine is provided in portions. Some countries undertake an approach that, in their opinion, would allow Ukraine to withstand the Russian assault, but, God forbid, would not hurt Russia at the same time.
We often hear [allies] making statements that they will support Ukraine “as long as it takes.” But what is the result we’re trying to achieve? Instead, we would like to hear that the support will last as long as it takes Ukraine to win and Russia to lose. This is the only way to ensure peace and security within Europe and across the Atlantic. It will guarantee our further development.
It will also be a lesson for those around the world who are carefully watching [how the world responds to] Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. If Russia, a dictatorship and authoritarian state, is allowed to redraw borders by force, seize a chunk of a sovereign state, destroy its nation, deport part of its people, change their identity through genocidal practices, turn beautiful cities and fertile lands into a desert with piles of gunpowder, dust, and concrete pieces, no member state of the EU and NATO will be able to secure their territory from similar claims tomorrow. North Korea might hold drills with [nuclear-capable] missiles and decide to unfreeze the conflict with South Korea. What would China do? It will all explode unless Russia is stopped and common security space is expanded to include Ukraine. If Russia is allowed to destroy Ukraine, each European nation should be ready to fight a war in its territory, invoke Article 5 tomorrow to back their allies by deploying their troops.
[They should be prepared] for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of their sons and daughters in a war that Russia will wage after being prompted by timidity.

Source: Ukraine Crisis