Russia, Ukraine and NATO - desperate triangle

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - NATO's expansion, which started in the 1990s, has approached a critical point again. Having admitted East European and Baltic countries, the alliance is now planning to admit Ukraine, a post-Soviet republic.

This would be NATO's biggest expansion since it was joined by West Germany in 1956. A new political reality that would result from this step gives much food for thought.

When will this happen? For the time being, Ukraine has been denied admission to the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), which precedes the entry into the alliance. But the NATO leaders reassured Ukraine that their cooperation and preparations for admission will be continued.

Most likely, Ukraine's participation in the MAP and subsequent entry into NATO will continue to be a bargaining chip in NATO-Russia relations. NATO may accept Ukraine only if the West's contacts with Russia sharply deteriorate.

There may be many reasons for such a turn in the upcoming decade. What could be a catalyst? Events in Iran or Georgia? Will soaring oil prices lead to a clash? Or will it be something else? In any case, it will take from one to two years to complete all MAP procedures, and this process may start at the next NATO summit.

There are some outstanding problems, like a foreign military base in Sevastopol. Under the allied rules, a potential member should not have any foreign troops on its territory. However, in the past the presence of Russian military bases did not prevent the united Germany from being a member, which means that NATO can adjust its standards if need be.

Attitude to NATO in Ukraine may develop into a much bigger problem. It is obvious that so far the majority of people in Ukraine is opposed to NATO membership and wants it to remain neutral. In the complicated domestic situation, forced entry into NATO may split the country and some of its regions may secede. Such an outcome is not likely to please either Kiev or Brussels, so there are no grounds to expect Ukraine's fast NATO entry.

But what consequences will Russia face if Ukraine joins NATO? They could be broken up into several categories.

First, it will encounter military consequences. Tensions on Russia's western borders will rapidly go up. At present, NATO's tactical aircraft can reach Moscow in about an hour. Their flying time would be reduced to 20-25 minutes. The NATO forces would increase by several divisions, 300 to 350 combat aircraft, and 10 to 12 surface ships. This would further increase the already big gap in NATO and Russia's military potentials.

Political consequences would be closely linked with the military ones. Tensions between Russia and the West would escalate; and the political climate, which already leaves much to be desired, would finally slide to the worst times of the Cold War. Confrontation in Europe would be tense, but its front would move closer to the former Soviet territory.

Russia has already sustained economic losses because of Kiev's flirtation with NATO. Its defense industry has to downgrade cooperation with its western neighbor and gradually move to Russia the production of spare parts for military hardware, which were previously made in Ukraine, or develop their counterparts. The range of this hardware is rather broad - electronic components, missile, aircraft, ship and tank engines, as well as different auxiliary equipment. If Ukraine joins NATO, such cooperation will end once and for all.

However, the fact that Ukraine's NATO entry would give a legal seal to the new geopolitical reality is its most important aftermath. Russia's more than 300-year-old dominance over the former Kievan Rus, which allowed it to consider itself a leader, consolidator and protector of east Slavic civilization, will be left in the past. The Russian leaders are not likely to consider such a scenario, but there is no doubt that Russia will use all political and economic levers in order to keep Ukraine at least neutral, and at best, to strengthen its influence there.

The destinies of Russia and Ukraine have been intertwined for centuries. They are too close for Russia not to notice a loss of Ukraine.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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