Allied plan would give Ukraine equal voice at high-level NATO council
Stars and Stripes June 16, 2023
Extending Ukraine an invitation to join NATO will not be on the agenda when heads of state meet next month for a major summit, but other measures will be taken to bring the country closer to eventual membership, NATO’s top official said Friday.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, following two days of talks at alliance headquarters in Brussels, said allies were on board with a plan to elevate Ukraine’s status inside the 31-nation security pact.
When heads of state meet in Lithuania next month, the hope is that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will have a seat at the table as part of a new NATO-Ukraine Council, Stoltenberg said. That council would give Ukraine an equal voice alongside member states, he said.
Still, Stoltenberg said it was premature to talk of a fast track to formal membership.
“We are not going to discuss an invitation at the Vilnius summit,” Stoltenberg said. While “all allies agree” that Ukraine’s future is in NATO, for now the focus is on how to deepen the war-torn country’s relationship with the alliance, he said.
“I'm confident that we will find a good solution and consensus at the Vilnius summit on how to be able to move Ukraine closer to NATO,” Stoltenberg said.
One possibility allies could consider is skipping the “membership action plan” for Ukraine, which typically is required for prospective NATO members.
The plan involves various steps to ensure a new member is up to alliance standards. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, following NATO talks Friday, was asked whether such a measure was under consideration, but he declined to comment.
In Brussels, Austin also held a meeting of some 50 partner countries that was focused on generating more support for Ukraine’s war effort. During the talks, Canada pledged more than 200 air defense missiles for Ukraine.
Italy, Germany and Norway also made additional commitments. Those pledges, along with a Dutch and Danish-led effort to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s, were among the issues hashed out in Brussels.
Longer-term aid efforts also are under review.
“We are working on a multiyear package with substantial funding to help rebuild the Ukrainian security and defense sector, and transition Ukraine towards full (compatibility) with NATO,” Stoltenberg said.
Such efforts will help Ukraine deter any future Russian aggression once the current fighting ends “and bring Ukraine closer to NATO in practical terms,” he said.