NATO nations split over Ukraine membership before Vilnius summit

NATO nations are deadlocked in negotiations to determine the next steps on Ukraine’s path to joining the Western alliance, as member states struggle to overcome divisions over how quickly Kiev should to pass under the transatlantic security shield at a time of acute hostility with Russia.

Discussions have intensified in weeks before President Biden and other NATO leaders are ready meet in Vilnius, Lithuania, to cement plans to bolster defenses against Russia, which upended decades of relative stability in Europe with its 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Officials from NATO nations, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, elaborated sensitive diplomatic discussions, he said there is consensus among the alliance’s 31 members that, despite Kiev’s defense, NATO will not issue Ukraine a formal invitation to join the 11-12 meeting july

But Eastern European nations are pushing for concrete steps toward that goal, including potentially committing to a timeline for Ukraine’s accession, even as the United States and some Western European nations advocate steps smaller ones that could include a bureaucratic upgrade to a NATO-Ukraine body or a decision to further expand NATO technical support to Ukraine’s defense sector.

“The Vilnius summit will not be historic,” said Ambassador Nataliia Galibarenko, head of Ukraine’s mission to NATO, “without the decision on Ukraine’s future in the alliance.”

Despite the difficulties involved in admitting a country in the midst of a major war, Ukraine believes that NATO “must define a path for our membership and establish the algorithm of Ukraine’s movement towards membership NATO, instead of another repetition of the statement about “open door policy,” Galibarenko said. “This is not enough.”

The disconnect between NATO members, 15 years after the United States led a push to declare that Ukraine would join the alliance, highlights the risks such steps could bring at a difficult time in the standoff between West with Russia. It also underscores the potential for long-term challenges within NATO despite the cohesion that has characterized the alliance’s response to the war.

President Vladimir Putin has long cited NATO’s inclusion of former Soviet states, which has been gradual since the end of the Cold War, as a threat to Russia’s security.

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Tuuli Duneton, a senior official in Estonia’s Defense Ministry, said the Vilnius summit offers an opportunity to send a strong message to Ukraine: “That after all the suffering they have gone through, their place belongs. [in] NATO, and they are more than welcome to join.”

Officials from the Baltic nations have proposed that NATO, beyond reiterating the 2008 formula that Ukraine would gain entry on an undetermined schedule, issue Ukraine a formal invitation to Vilnius, or start a process to establish a specific deadline and conditions for Ukraine’s accession, even if it is it is longer because of the war.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, in Central Europe, said his “wish list” for Vilnius included “providing a relevant path” for Ukraine to NATO. What is being discussed ahead of the summit, he said, is “the level of political will” about how quickly to proceed.

Countries that support faster action argue that making membership conditional on Ukraine’s ability to repel Russia’s full-scale invasion effectively gives Putin a veto, not the message NATO wants to send.

They say history shows that only membership, not its promise, can deter Russia’s use of force. Months after NATO’s 2008 declaration of eventual accession by Ukraine and Georgia, another former Soviet republic, Putin sent Russian forces into Georgia to seize the territory. Ukraine’s slow steps toward NATO membership also did not prevent Putin’s illegal seizure of Crimea in 2014 or his full-scale invasion last year.

In a recent essay for Foreign Affairs, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for swift action, saying Ukraine had demonstrated its readiness over the past 18 months. “It is time for the alliance to stop making excuses and start the process leading to the eventual accession of Ukraine, showing Putin that he has already failed,” he wrote.

But unlike in 2008, it is the United States, along with other powerful allies in Western Europe, who prefer a slower and more cautious approach.

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U.S. officials say the Biden administration would prefer that NATO nations prioritize providing Ukraine with continued battlefield support as it prepares for a long-awaited counteroffensive. They see membership and possible security guarantees as issues that must be addressed as part of an eventual solution to the war.

“Right now, the focus has to be on practical support and how we can best sustain the security assistance that we’re providing to Ukraine,” a senior US official told reporters in Brussels last month past “That’s the overriding political goal at the moment,” the official added, saying the broader post-conflict political relationship between NATO and Ukraine would be “somewhat moot if we don’t absolutely guarantee that we will be able to maintain the assistance of security”. .”

Countries with stronger reservations point out that admitting Ukraine while it is at war with Russia could automatically trigger Article V, NATO’s mutual defense clause, which would push the alliance into a major conflict with the world’s biggest nuclear power. world Rapid steps towards membership could also prompt Putin to step up his campaign in Ukraine.

One Eastern European official said there is “a bit of ping-pong between Germany, France and the US”, with each country pointing to the others as having the largest reserves. The French and German governments declined to comment for this article.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has frequently cited NATO support for Ukraine’s accession, but has offered no details on when or how it might to pass. Last month, he urged the nations of the alliance to focus on continued assistance, “because without a sovereign and independent Ukraine, there is no point in discussing membership.”

While NATO nations, led by the United States, have funneled billions of dollars in arms to Kiev since the invasion, the alliance itself has not, as it seeks to refute Putin’s claim that NATO acts as an aggressor.

Despite the differing views, officials have stressed the importance of projecting cohesion as Ukraine tries to put itself in the strongest possible position for potential negotiations with Russia.

“The goal now and Vilnius is to reach an agreement that shows unity and tangible support for Ukraine, maintains the open door policy and shows progress towards membership, while respecting the concerns of some member countries,” said a British diplomat.

Estonia’s Duneton noted that the alliance’s ability to hold together “is also being watched very closely by the Kremlin.”

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One area of ​​agreement among most NATO nations is the importance of finalizing Sweden’s entry as the 32nd member after months of delay by member states Turkey and Hungary. Diplomats hope Turkey, which has cited what it says is Sweden’s lax treatment of Kurdish migrants, will label Ankara terrorists, to sign off on Sweden’s bid after this month’s election.

Beyond a roadmap, Ukraine is pushing for more practical cooperation. Galibarenko said his priorities include creating a modern NATO-compatible air and missile defense architecture, establishing a system for the medical rehabilitation of wounded service members, and developing a national system for humanitarian demining. Ultimately, he argued, membership would be in the alliance’s interest.

“Without Ukraine, it is impossible to secure the strength of NATO’s eastern flank,” he said. “Just as Finland and Sweden will strengthen NATO’s northern flank, Ukraine will ensure the security of Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region.”

William Taylor served as the US ambassador to Kiev in 2008 when NATO made its announcement on Ukraine and Georgia. As a sign of US support, President George W. Bush stopped in Kiev on his way to the NATO summit in Bucharest. Unlike now, only a minority of Ukrainians supported NATO membership at the time.

Although more than a decade ago has happened, Taylor said the war and Ukraine’s strong showing against Russia make its delayed transformation into a NATO member more likely than ever.

“I always thought it would happen,” he said. “The question would be when.”

Rauhala reported from Brussels.

A year of war from Russia in Ukraine

Portraits of Ukraine: Life has changed for all Ukrainians since Russia launched its full-scale invasion a year ago, in ways big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other in extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined markets. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.

Battle of Attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kiev in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along a stretch of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.

A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law that prevents men of fighting age from leaving the country, has forced millions of Ukrainian families to make harrowing decisions about how to balance security, duty and love, with lives that were once intertwined that have become unrecognizable. This is what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.

Deepening Global Divisions: President Biden has heralded the strong Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on the issues raised by the war in Ukraine. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions have not stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.

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