In order to fight against the magnet of enormous power called "Putin’s Empire", Ukraine needs all allies whose favour it may win. These are the European Union and the United States of America from the financial and economic point of view, and the United States of America and North Atlantic Alliance, or NATO, from the military point of view.
There are volumes written on the subject why Ukraine needs membership in NATO, but as our northern brothers say, repetition is the mother of learning. So once again: we need NATO instructors, its methodological and practical experience, equipment, and armament. We need additional communications with NATO member states. In other words, the North Atlantic Alliance is necessary to us as a powerful shadow behind the back of Ukraine. A shadow, at the sight of which the Kremlin will have to retreat from Ukraine even with all its frenzied rage.
"But why referendum?" an impatient reader may ask. Is not it possible "to agree with the West on Saturday", to sign a contract on Sunday, and bring the NATO military contingent to Donbass and settle everything there on Monday?
Many people think so in our country: behind all hustle and bustle, an average citizen has no time to understand the general order of things. So the answer will also be general, without focusing on details. The referendum on membership in NATO is only an initial stage of a long way. But this is an absolutely necessary stage from all points of view.
This referendum is necessary for the Ukraine leaders – to prove determination of their further steps towards European integration. Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk, and key people in the Verkhovna Rada must have an opportunity to assure foreign partners: look, not only the elite wants accession to NATO, it is desired by most Ukrainians. We said our word, now it is your turn.
This referendum is necessary for the friends of Ukraine that defend its interests in the world. In the world where the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany opposes Kiev’s membership in NATO, and the president of Finland directly explains: we would enter, but we are afraid of serious deterioration of relations with Russia. (Read off-screen: look what Putin is doing with Georgia and Ukraine? The last "serious deterioration of relations" in Finland meant the Soviet-Finnish war of 1930-1940…).
This referendum is necessary for the army – just as moral support so far, as a promise to help in the future, as a signal that the world did not leave Ukraine alone against the state whose military budget exceeds ours dozens times.
This referendum is necessary for all of us – to know where we are going. Determination narrows the field for fruitless hesitations, defines the objectives, and concentrates efforts. There are states that have a talent to live in permanent neutrality, even among the violence of world wars. Ukraine is definitely not one of such relicts.
But, having listed all pros, we should be clearly aware of the possible dangers of such a referendum. First, a quotation.
"We proceed from the assumption that the Russian leader is 100% rational. We hope that he is so. But if he is only 95% rational? Do we have to be ready for these 5% of irrationality that can lead to irrational decision-making? You cannot give me guarantees, and I cannot give guarantees that Vladimir Putin is 100% rational. It means that we should also be ready for irrational scenarios".
The author of this statement is not the chief physician of the largest European psychiatric clinic Otto-Wagner-Spital in Vienna. No, this idea was expressed at the plenary session of NATO Parliamentary Assembly by the former Secretary General of the North Atlantic Alliance Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. And it brilliantly captures all the essence of the current state of affairs.
Accession to NATO of any state neighboring Russia is perceived by Vladimir Putin not simply as a threat to "the Russian world". No, he will consider such development of events as a shattering geopolitical failure. Personal geopolitical failure. And when the principle "nothing personal, just business" acquires personal pain spots, one can forget about the rational outlook.
The shock will be twice as painful in the situation with Ukraine: Putin considers Ukraine the main source of danger of importing color revolution to Russia. And, on the whole, he is right here; another thing is what paranoid horrors the Russian president attributes to such a scenario. One thing is "to slightly freeze the country", trying to save it from radical nihilism; and an absolutely different thing is to freeze it completely, blocking all main ways of evolution. Let it explode sometime later, the main thing is to keep it safe now, while Putin is in power…
We cannot judge when it will explode; one thing is clear: Vladimir Putin will do his best in order to:
a) prevent the referendum on the accession to NATO in Ukraine;
b) to exclude serious rapprochement of Kiev with the North Atlantic Alliance if the referendum takes place nevertheless.
To achieve these objectives, Vladimir Vladimirovich will be ready to do anything. He intensifies (up to a full-scale military campaign) presence of the Russian Federation army in Ukraine. He will take measures to destabilize the situation in the rear of Ukraine. All pro-Russian parties, organizations and politicians will get maximum financial and organizational support.
Victor Medvedchuk will always be engaged in lobby negotiations, and Pyotr Simonenko will spend hours at demonstrations. Nestor Shufrich will have three nice deep wrinkles on his forehead because of his constant grief. These are not horror stories from a pub talk, but a very probable alternative of how the events will develop. And our reaction to this scenario could be similar with the Finnish one, unless…
Unless Putin let understand that at his heart he does not consider Ukraine as an independent state with the right to vote.
In his opinion, Donbass, Kherson, Odessa, Sumy, and Kharkiv regions are primordial Russian lands that need to be gathered and attached to the Russian Federation. As for the rest of Ukraine, its territory is a good subject for bargaining with Western opponents. Nothing more than that.
Thus, no matter how determined is Ukraine in its wish for European integration, its strategic fate is decided in Vladimir Vladimirovich’s opinion. The question of tactics remains: how soon, to what extent, for what price.
If so, should Ukraine delay the referendum on the accession to NATO?
There is nothing to hide: for the last year the Russian president has been doing his best to make question rhetorical.