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“Security guarantees are an illusion”

The NATO summit has begun in Washington. The dominant topic: Ukraine. In the attacked country, people hope to join the alliance soon – but that is unlikely as long as the war is still going on.

Andrea Beer

Zhenya is flying a small black drone over a fragrant pine forest near Kiev. “Don't fly it into the tree,” his co-pilot Eldar calls out, laughing. Then he leans over another drone and connects it to a battery that the drone would often lose during takeoff. “This is a training drone that can also carry an explosive charge,” he says with satisfaction.

The two young men are volunteers at the Forpost Foundation, which supplies the Ukrainian military with vehicles and specializes in electronic warfare and drones.

NATO as the only way out

Director Oleksiy Polontschuk stands a little further on the training field and rolls a cigarette. Then he connects the electronic device on the roof of his car to the car engine. It looks like a small upside-down table and has sophisticated software that can visualize data and disrupt enemy electronic warfare weapons. For example, the radio remote control or electronics of enemy drones.

The 50-year-old engineer does not expect anything concrete from NATO's anniversary meeting, and he does not see an alternative to joining. “Without NATO, we will collapse at some point in ten years because our neighbor is brainless and has no borders,” says Polontschuk. If the war were to last another 10 or even 20 years, Ukraine would eventually have no people left to fight it. Therefore, NATO is the only umbrella that can make a difference.

Volunteers as the backbone of the defense

Volunteers like Oleksii Polontschuk have taken on an invaluable role in defending Ukraine against the Russian invaders. They support the Ukrainian military and without them it would be difficult, says Serhiy Osachuk, lieutenant colonel of the Ukrainian border guards. Ukraine has so far concluded 20 bilateral security agreements with Western countries and one with the EU. That is important, but not a substitute.

“Everything other than NATO membership is an illusion. An imaginary idea of ​​any security guarantees, that will not work. It is only a stopgap so that the dialogue does not break down,” explains Osatschuk. The historian was governor of the western Chernivtsi region until mid-2022 and then volunteered. Now the 52-year-old, calm-looking man is stationed in Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region and coordinates the deployment of the border troops with the army.

Serhiy Osachuk regularly travels to the hotspots in the east. He stresses that he cannot speak on behalf of the entire armed forces. But for two and a half years he has been deployed in the particularly difficult, hot sections of the front line. These include Avdiivka and Bakhmut, the Kupyansk area and Chasiv Yar. He knows the situation at the front from the defensive performance of the brigades and we know exactly what Russia is doing there: “I can confirm it in one short sentence – the entire Eastern Front is burning.”

Ukraine as part of NATO

As long as the Russian war of aggression rages, Ukraine will not become a NATO member – that is clear to the military and political leadership in Ukraine. At the NATO meeting in Vilnius last year, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it unprecedented and absurd that there was no timetable for Ukraine's invitation to NATO and its membership. He hopes for a strong summit at which there will also be a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council.

“We are working on the details of new solutions and documents that we will sign with our partners. There should be good decisions, including on air defense,” the Ukrainian president said.

Western weapons also on Russian soil?

Despite everything, many people in Ukraine hope to join during the war of aggression, says Kyiv military expert Oleksandr Kowalenko. It is extremely important to expand cooperation with NATO so that Ukraine can become a member as soon as possible after the war ends. He expects international partners to give permission to use Western weapons on Russian territory without any restrictions.

“We finally need permission to attack Russian military targets, no matter how far they are from the border with Ukraine. This is very important for us in order to limit Russia's attack options as much as possible,” said Kowalenko.

Hope for more support

Meanwhile, in the fragrant pine forest near Kyiv, volunteers Eldar and Shenya continue to test drones and how to disrupt enemy weapon systems. He doesn't expect anything from the NATO summit, says Shenya. That's something for diplomats. However, he would like NATO to support the Ukrainian military more. “I believe this war is now a joint war. We must join forces to defeat the attacker.”

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