NATO clears obstacle for Ukraine to join alliance if it prevails in war with Russia
Stars and Stripes July 10, 2023
NATO is poised to put Ukraine on a fast track for membership, but any shot at entry into the U.S-led security pact hinges on the outcome of its war with Russia, Ukrainian and alliance officials said Monday.
“I welcome this long-awaited decision that shortens our path to NATO,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in a statement.
Intensive talks in the lead-up to NATO’s summit this week in Vilnius, Lithuania, resulted in an agreement on removal of the Membership Action Plan as a requirement for Ukraine to join, Kuleba said.
That process typically involves a host of bureaucratic and military reforms designed to ensure that a prospective member is up to NATO standards.
While most new members must go through the reform process, which can drag on for years, Finland and Sweden were exempted from it.
When U.S. President Joe Biden and other heads of state gather in Vilnius starting Tuesday, the Russia-Ukraine war and its security implications will dominate the discussion.
Kyiv and member countries along NATO’s eastern flank have been pushing for a clear message that Ukraine’s future is in NATO.
Removing the action plan hurdle was a positive step forward, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said Monday at a news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
“Ukraine needs a specific signal that once conditions allow, it will become a real member of NATO,” Nauseda said, adding that with its battlefield performance, the country has already proved itself up to NATO standards.
Stoltenberg did not address the issue of streamlining Ukraine’s eventual path into NATO, saying those decisions will be formally announced during the summit.
However, Stoltenberg restated that it would be impossible for Ukraine to gain entry as long as it is at war.
“Unless Ukraine prevails, there is no membership issue to be discussed at all,” he said.
Predictions about the future course of the war vary greatly, with some experts saying the conflict could drag on for years.
Biden on Sunday also threw cold water on any notion that Ukraine could join the alliance during the war because such a move would turn NATO into a combatant in the conflict.
“We’re determined to commit (to defending) every inch of territory that is NATO territory,” Biden told CNN. “It’s a commitment that we’ve all made no matter what. If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia if that were the case.”