Some Thoughts on the Adoption of Ukraine’s National Security Strategy

Some Thoughts on the Adoption of Ukraine’s National Security Strategy

On September 14, 2020, President Zelenskiy issued a decree adopting the national security strategy of Ukraine “Security of the Person – Security of the Country.” The document was drafted under the guidance of the National Security Council on the basis of Article 26 of the law “On the National Security of Ukraine” from June 21, 2018.  This is Ukraine’s third national security strategy. The first appeared in 2005 under the Yushchenko presidency (and was “amended” by President Yanukovych in 2012). The second was adopted in May 2015 after the election of President Poroshenko. Without delving into a comparative analysis of these three documents it is clear that they reveal an evolution in the thinking about the priorities of state policy on security matters, the essence and level of threat to Ukraine’s national interests and how to protect them.

It was understood that the existing strategy required conceptual amendments because of continuing Russian aggression against Ukraine that began in 2014. It took over five years to conduct a full analysis of the consequences of the war, to develop clear formulations on the priorities of foreign and domestic policies as well as further steps and measures in response to the new challenges finally to produce this important document. The formal Working Group for preparing the draft Strategy was created in July 2019. It consisted of representatives from the National Institute of Strategic Studies (NISS) and other state bodies and non-governmental experts as well as foreign experts. In December 2019 the draft was presented at NATO headquarters in Brussels and was met with approval.

The time between the completion of the first stage of the Strategy and its final adoption saw considerable improvements to the text to include this year’s events – first and foremost issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Very noticeable, too, was the disappearance of the controversial section on the intention to take steps not only to decrease the likelihood of escalating conflict with Russia but also to “lower tensions in relations with Russia.” This thesis attracted much criticism from policy analysts especially because it was incompatible with the declared course of closer EU and NATO integration. Now, the basic steps for preventing escalation in the conflict with Russia are those that increase the cost of escalation “to a level unacceptable to the Russian Federation.” This could be a hint at the intention to continue the blockade of occupied territories, primarily not to renew the supply of water to the Crimean peninsula.

The new national security strategy differs from its predecessors in its fairly sharp formulations and definitions. Russia is unambiguously referred to as an aggressor state that has illegally occupied Ukrainian territory in Crimea and separate districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and a source of long-term systemic threats to the national security of Ukraine. The document notes that “in order to renew its influence in Ukraine, the Russian Federation continues its hybrid war by systematically employing political, economic, informational and psychological, cyber and military means.” The term “Russian occupational administration” is used in reference to the “governing structures” in the temporarily occupied territories. It is striking that these formulations differ fundamentally from the rhetoric used by the Ukrainian leadership so as “not to annoy Russia.”

As with the occupied Donbas, also noticeable is that much more space than previously is devoted to Crimea. The document states that “Ukraine will defend the rights, liberties, and legal interests of its citizens in the temporarily occupied territories of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and City of Sevastopol, and will pursue initiatives for the reintegration of these territories, and the social protection and support of the population that is living on the indicated territories as well as defend the rights and liberties of those persons that belong to the Crimean Tatar nation, the Karaites and the Krymchaks and will keep these issues on the international agenda.”

In this context, it should be pointed out that de-occupation and reintegration are in fact different processes requiring a sequence of steps that must take into consideration the differences between Crimea and Donbas. In addition, although the Strategy mentions indigenous peoples for the first time – clearly a positive development – the formulation adopted unfortunately focuses on individual rights (“persons who belong to…”) and doesn’t sufficiently stress collective rights, particularly the right to self-determination, a legitimate argument in any Ukrainian or international discussion of a strategy for the de-occupation and reintegration of Crimea.

It is important that the strategy fully reflects the positive dynamics in the relationship with NATO, particularly Ukraine’s official status as a country aspiring for membership status; a course that was enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine in 2018 and by Ukraine’s being designated as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner in 2020. Full NATO membership is identified as the country’s strategic goal.

Another interesting point is the lack of any mention of the Minsk Process and the Normandy Format which until recently were both viewed as approaches to stopping the Russo-Ukraine war for which there was no alternative. Instead, there is a clear list and gradation of countries with whom bilateral relations are a priority. This might indicate a desire to expand the negotiating process through the inclusion of additional, major strategic partners.

The top five such countries are the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, and France. These countries are followed by Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland and Turkey. (In contrast to the top countries these countries are listed in alphabetical order which does not necessarily reflect their value as geopolitical partners.) The document then notes the need for “partner relations with other Baltic and Northern European states and also close, good-neighbor relations with the countries of Central and Southeast Europe.” Unfortunately, Romania is not included in the list of strategic partners even though cooperating with Bucharest is an important factor for strengthening security in the Black Sea region – something that has been noted on several occasions by influential international think tanks (see, for example, However, there is general reference to “practical cooperation with NATO member states in order to guarantee security in the Black Sea basin.”

Regarding Belarus and Moldova, the document talks about “pragmatic relations” and continues that “Ukraine will develop mutually beneficial economic cooperation with leading countries in Asia, the Middle East and South America.” In contrast to earlier strategies there is no separate mention of relations with China and nothing about working on a subregional level within the framework of such structures as the Visegrad Four, GUAM, or the Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation.

An important innovation is that the Concluding Positions note that “The Strategy forms the basis for developing… planning documents in the sphere of national defense and security that will identify the ways and instruments for its realization.” This will involve the creation of fifteen separate “sectoral” strategies that will substantiate the principal directions of Ukrainian security policy. The government and the responsible ministries have to draft and submit these strategies for consideration by the NSC within six months.

On the whole, the new National Security Strategy of Ukraine substantially reduces and removes the existing conceptual lack of clarity and contradictions in the evaluation of the real and possible threats and challenges confronting the country and how to effectively confront them. If the Strategy is faithfully adhered to Ukraine will be able to successfully confront the variety of foreign and domestic factors that threaten its functioning and development as a modern democratic, sovereign state.

Original article in Ukrainian - До введення в дію Стратегії національної безпеки України – коментар