In the regional perspective the situation is as follows. The residents of Western and Northern regions tend to regard NATO as a defensive alliance. The perceptions of NATO as a defensive alliance and as an aggressive military bloc are almost equally divided in Kyiv, central, northwestern and southeastern regions. The perception of NATO as an aggressive military bloc is predominant in the Crimea, Eastern, Southern, south-western and north-eastern regions.
In accordance with these perceptions, the Western and Northern regions have the biggest number of proponents of Ukraine's accession to NATO (33.7%) and the smallest number of opponents (21.5%). In the Central region the proponents of NATO accession make up 22.1% and the opponents 39.5%. In the Eastern region these figures are 19.7% and 48.7% respectively. In the Crimea 19.2% of the population are proponents and 44.4% are opponents.
The above-indicated data point to the ambivalence of the Ukrainian public opinion and the big regional and age-related differences. However, each region, just as each age and/or occupational group, has a well-established core group of the population oriented towards the European values and European integration. The majority of these people support NATO membership. But insufficient support for Ukraine's accession to NATO cannot be explained only by Soviet stereotypes, pro-Russian or anti-American sentiments. To a large degree, NATO scepticism is due to people's fear of belonging to whatever "bloc" that may drag Ukraine into a military conflict. A significant part of Ukraine's population believes that accession to NATO is a much too costly project for a poor country like Ukraine. An effective influence on public opinion building should be exercised aiming at eliminating such stereotypes of thinking, which have been shaped up as a result of insufficient public awareness of the true benefits of NATO membership. A decisive role in eliminating such stereotypes should be played by the media.
In addition to theoretically addressing the problems of Euro-Atlantic integration, a number of questions are related to practical implementation of Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration and to the procedure for gaining NATO membership. Addressing such questions requires structuring and implementation of a fully tested strategy for gaining NATO membership in a short-term and medium-term perspective.
Such a strategy should take into account the whole range of foreign and domestic policies, objective and subjective conditions, which have emerged within a certain historical time period.
The Action Plan for a short-term perspective should be subordinated to the task of reaching the overriding aim as well as intermediate goals. The supreme aim for a short-term perspective is gaining invitation from NATO for joining the Alliance. Intermediate goals should be tailored towards reaching the overriding aim. They are about making sure that two major NATO demands are met: Ukraine must ensure its credibility and be able lo make its contribution into the collective capabilities of the Alliance, i.e. the capacity to meet its relevant commitments.
Ensuring credibility means that Ukraine should accomplish the following tasks:
1. Renouncing its twofold orientation in its foreign policy and military-political field, which would mean rethinking of its relationship with Russia in favour of its NATO accession interests. As we stand today, orientation towards Russia in the military-political field has impeded the move of Ukraine towards NATO and undermined its credibility as a reliable partner in the eyes of the Alliance.
2. Ensuring transparency and fairness and freedom in the presidential elections in the year of 2004, the parliamentary elections in the year of 2006 and the elections to the local government.
3. Guaranteeing the freedom of media and civil liberties through approval and enforcement of respective legislative and regulatory acts and pursuance of required administrative, organisational and economic policies.
4. Promoting trust in the area of protection of restricted information.
5. Raising of a new generation of government officials and civil servants that shall be committed to the idea of Euro-Atlantic integration. It must be a unique "euro-atlantic" elite that would enjoy authority and trust within NATO structures. It would enable the formation of core groups, which would be responsible for practical implementation of Ukraine's NATO accession idea in key ministries and government departments involved in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration.
6. Submitting an official written bid with a clearly spelled-out intention to join NATO. This step is an indispensable political and legal condition, which gives grounds to the Alliance to perceive the intention of a nation as a serious and tangible one so that NATO can respond to Ukraine by offering the Membership Action Plan and then extending invitation to join the Alliance. An intensive dialogue between both sides should precede the submission of the bid in order to agree on terms and conditions for making such step and on procedural matters.
7. Launching a wide-ranging programme of political and diplomatic events in NATO nations in order to form a positive image of Ukraine and convince policy-makers in those countries of the benefits of Ukraine's joining NATO.
Thus, credibility of Ukraine, as a necessary prerequisite for gaining NATO membership, can only beestablished by creating relevant objective and subjective preconditions.
An important condition, which creates credibility and enhances chances of Ukraine for joining NATO, is its capacity to make a tangible contribution to the fulfilment by the Alliance of its functions. Building up and demonstration of Ukraine's capacity to meet its commitments as a member of the Alliance can be ensured by addressing the following priority tasks:
1. Conducting Defence Review and elaboration of goals and implementation plans of the reform and development of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with a view to ensure its NATO membership in the future.
2. Conducting Defence Review in the other elements of security sector, such as State border guards, Ministry of Interior, civil emergencies troops. On the other hand carrying out such a review in the said power structures, is significantly easier due to their small numbers. But on the other hand, it is also more complicated due to their closed nature and their lack of experience of co-operation with NATO structures. But the reform of these structures is the trustworthiest indicator of truly democratic transformations in Ukraine.
3. Introduction of a transparent system of defence planning and budget-making procedures, embracing NATO principles of elaboration of defence