In a Feb. 1 interview with the Axios program on HBO, President Volodymyr Zelensky wondered why Ukraine is still not a member of NATO.
The reasons are clear. It’s true that NATO is reluctant to take countries at war, and Russia is continuing its aggression against Ukraine.
However, it is not impossible for countries with unresolved military conflicts to join NATO, as demonstrated by Turkey and Greece with their dispute over Cyprus.
There are other profound reasons as well. Despite having gained combat experience, Ukraine’s army is still a clumsy behemoth run in a Soviet way. It shuns NATO-style individual initiative and meritocracy.
The military’s progress towards NATO standards has been slower than that of Georgia, which learned its lesson after quickly losing some of its territory in an eight-day Russian invasion in 2008. Military reformers like ex-Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk and Aivaras Abromavicius, ex-CEO of state defense firm UkrOboronProm, are long gone.
Far from protecting the country, the Security Service of Ukraine (known as the SBU) is a KGB relic. It has been swarmed by Russian agents and transformed into a corruption racket for extorting money from businesses.
Ukraine’s courts, prosecutors and police too often behave as a criminal gang ready to sell the country’s future to the highest bidder. Stifled with mind-boggling corruption, overregulation and kangaroo courts, Ukraine’s economy remains among the poorest in Europe. It does not look like an attractive aspiring member to NATO or the European Union.
If Zelensky really wants to join NATO, he must carry out genuine reforms of the military, judiciary, law enforcement, SBU and the economy.
Once Ukraine acquires a powerful army, a strong democracy and a robust economy, NATO membership will become more than distant dream. Then Zelensky won’t have to ask questions with such obvious answers anymore.