Ukraine will not emerge from next month’s NATO summit in Lithuania with a concrete schedule of dates for joining the military alliance. What they will offer him, with a growing consensus among the main NATO members, is a fast track of entry by the time they make an offer of membership, a proposal that will disappoint Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Alliance members will also offer post-conflict security guarantees to Ukraine, but outside of formal NATO structures. Most likely it is a general commitment to protect against attacks from Russia. They are also expected to continue sending ammunition and to continue assisting the Ukrainian armed forces to make them more convergent with those of NATO. But no specific weapons proposals are expected, but general and high-level commitments.
According to the countries at the center of the negotiations, the lack of agreement is normal in the run-up to a summit of NATO members. But they hope that the possibility of exempting Kiev from complying with the conditions included in the laborious application plan will be recognized as an advance, in relation to everything offered to the country before. [MAP, por sus siglas en inglés] to join almost automatically once you have received the invitation. Finland and Sweden have been asked to join NATO without having to complete a MAP.
It is also possible that NATO will improve its current political relationship with Ukraine, moving from today’s NATO-Ukraine Commission to a NATO-Ukraine Council, a revamp that gives Ukraine superior status in joint meetings. According to one diplomat, it’s unlikely to mean much to the average Ukrainian soldier on the front lines, but he insists it has real value.
According to the US ambassador to NATO, Juliette Smith, the move to the Council format “would change the fundamental dynamic” because Ukraine would attend as one of the 32 attendees, and not in the current format of 31 plus 1, which would change possible agenda items, something the United States welcomes, according to Smith.
Disagreement over the status of Ukraine
It has long been recognized by all parties that Ukraine cannot become a member of NATO while it is in the middle of a conflict. But Kiev, with the backing of the Baltic countries and Poland, would like to set a date or timetable for its accession after the end of the conflict. The proposal is that the summit in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, come out with a compromise of incorporation.
With no date and no clear conditions for Ukraine to fulfill in order to automatically obtain NATO membership status, Kiev will accuse the alliance of repeating the membership promise it already made to Ukraine in April 2008 during the Bucharest summit, when it announced that there was an agreement that Georgia and Ukraine would one day become members of NATO.
Western countries say Ukraine’s anger would be perfectly understandable, but insist that the words chosen in the wording of the upcoming deal and security commitments can mean an improvement.
Full NATO membership gives its members a security umbrella thanks to the Article 5 collective self-defense commitment.
At such a critical moment, it is considered essential to maintain the unity of the military alliance. Vladimir Putin is probably the only beneficiary of a tense summit with the various parties clashing over Ukraine’s future NATO status.
Another of the issues planned for the Vilnius summit is the attempt to force all NATO members to allocate 2% of their GDP to defense.
Turkish ban on Sweden
Summit preparations have suffered a setback when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Sweden should not expect Ankara to change its position on its NATO bid at next month’s summit as long as it continues to not impede the protests organized in Stockholm against the Turkish government.
During a flight back from Azerbaijan, Erdogan has told reporters that Turkey cannot favorably address Sweden’s NATO bid as long as “terrorists” are protesting in Stockholm. He also stated that the Turkish position was going to be clearly expressed in the talks that took place this Wednesday with Swedish representatives in Ankara. Erdogan made the remarks ahead of a meeting of officials from Turkey, Sweden, Finland and NATO to try to overcome Turkish objections that are delaying Sweden’s application for membership.
In a press conference, US Ambassador Smith insisted that Sweden was already ready for membership.
Turkey has also been trying to get the US Congress to lift the ban on selling F-16s to Ankara, but the sequence the US is looking for is to agree to Sweden’s NATO membership before lifting it.
Translated by Francisco de Zarate.