A ground-based laser system for space debris cleaning requires pulse power well above the critical power for self-focusing in the atmosphere. Self-focusing results in beam quality degradation and is detrimental for the system operation. We demonstrate that, for the relevant laser parameters, when the thickness of the atmosphere is much less than the focusing length (that is, of the orbit scale), the beam transit through the atmosphere produces the phase distortion only. The model thus developed is in very good agreement with numerical modeling. This implies that, by using phase mask or adaptive optics, it may be possible to eliminate almost completely the impact of self-focusing effects in the atmosphere on the laser beam propagation.