Kiev, with the support of NATO member states in eastern Europe, has called on the alliance’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania this week, to issue a commitment to include Ukraine in the military alliance as soon as the war with Russia ends.
Over the past months, Ukraine has sought to join the alliance.
The country’s access to membership or not ultimately depends on Kiev’s partners in the West, according to what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily video address.
Zelensky spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg a day after the member states extended the latter’s mandate in office, until October 1, 2024.
Stoltenberg has held the position since 2014, and in March 2022 his term was extended until September 2023, after Shortly after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukrainian lands.
The 31 NATO member states are currently negotiating the exact wording of the final statement of the Vilnius summit regarding Ukraine’s possible membership.
Their leaders will also seek agreement on a new defense spending target.
Before the NATO summit, Eastern European countries are pushing for the issuance of a clear schedule regarding Ukraine’s membership, with the United States and Germany leading the reluctance side, and Britain playing the mediating role.
The position of Germany and the United States characterized by hesitation in inviting Ukraine to join the alliance, for fear of an unpredictable reaction from Russia.
Berlin also stressed the need to fulfill NATO’s requirements, in terms of civilian and democratic control of the military, for example.
The formation of the scheduled “NATO-Ukraine Council” is a compromise to strengthen relations between the two sides regarding Kiev’s future membership in the alliance.
Such a council would allow Ukraine to participate more closely in the work of the member states and in the development of the alliance.
The council also means some kind of initial political integration, on top of a multi-year assistance plan aimed at making Ukraine’s military fully interoperable with NATO forces.
In a symbolic visit to Kiev earlier this month, coinciding with the start of Spain’s rotating presidency of the European Union, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pledged Madrid’s support for Ukraine however long it takes, and called for the formation of a “NATO-Ukraine Council” in order to strengthen Kiev’s political participation in the Military alliance.
Sanchez announced the provision of more armored vehicles and financial aid to revive Ukraine’s economy, and signed with Zelensky a joint declaration in which Spain pledged to strengthen the NATO alliance with Ukraine.
However, the Spanish government did not clarify whether it was in favor of opening the door to Ukraine’s accession.
Recently, the Ukrainian President paid a one-day visit to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, where he was received by his Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Radev, Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov and Deputy Prime Minister Maria Gabriel.
Zelensky also held talks with leaders of political blocs in the Bulgarian parliament.
On the same day, the Bulgarian National Assembly adopted a declaration supporting Ukraine’s joining NATO once the war ended.
During the visit, a joint declaration on the Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine and a memorandum of understanding on energy cooperation were signed.
“I would like to thank Bulgaria for its support and protection of my people,” Zelensky told a news conference, referring to key military supplies Sofia has provided Bulgaria since the early days of the war.
The new pro-Western government in Bulgaria pledged more support to Ukraine in its battle to expel the Russian invaders from its territory.
Despite this, the Bulgarian president recently opposed his country’s participation in a joint EU initiative aimed at providing ammunition to Ukraine.
During a summit of EU leaders in Brussels last week, Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob said that lasting peace in Ukraine is a precondition for starting negotiations to join NATO.
“There are diverse views and formulas regarding Ukraine’s accession to NATO… I think time will tell which formula will be acceptable,” Golob said.
Golob added that Ukraine was on its way to joining the alliance, but the length of the membership journey depends on several factors.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said in Brussels that NATO members decided during the alliance’s summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would join the Western military alliance in the future.
Over time, Iohannis confirmed Romania’s position on the expansion of the alliance, stressing that the alliance needed a strong long-term position and an advanced defense capable of facing all threats.
The US ambassador to NATO, Juliana Smith, said that the alliance is close to reaching a consensus on how to deal with the issue of Ukraine’s accession, during the summit scheduled in Vilnius on Tuesday and Wednesday, and NATO wants to show that it is going beyond its previous pledge to Kiev.
Smith explained that she expects Ukrainian President Zelensky to attend the summit, and believes that his presence will send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
NATO diplomats say that the United States doesn’t want to go beyond the pledge made by the alliance at the Bucharest Summit 2008, regarding the accession of Ukraine, without setting a timetable for that.
The NATO summit in Vilnius comes at a time when the Western military alliance is seeking to annex Sweden to it, an effort that Türkiye and Hungary are obstructing.
Zelensky described the upcoming summit as very important for Europe’s future security, adding that he wanted his country to receive an invitation during the meeting to join the coalition once the Russian war ends.
Meanwhile, the Spanish army is transferring an air defense system, stationed in Latvia, to neighboring Lithuania, to provide protection for the NATO summit, the Spanish Embassy in Vilnius announced recently.
Germany also transferred Patriot air defense units to Lithuania in order to contribute to providing the necessary protection for NATO leaders during the summit.
NATO’s support for Ukraine scheduled to top the summit’s agenda over the course of the eleventh and twelfth days of this month.