Ukraine renews push for NATO membership

    WORLD  30 May 2023 - 19:51

    Ukraine is upping its campaign to get a firm promise of NATO membership eventually, working to sway wary allies before a key meeting this week.

    The foreign ministers of NATO member countries will gather for an informal meeting in Oslo on May 31 and June 1, where they are set to debate Kyiv’s request to join the defense alliance, Politico reports.

    And while there is broad understanding that Ukraine cannot join NATO so long as it’s actively battling Russia, Ukrainian officials want NATO leaders to make a concrete political gesture of putting Kyiv on the path to membership during the alliance’s upcoming Vilnius summit in July. 

    Kyiv’s NATO campaign was on full display in Bratislava this week, where senior politicians and officials from across Europe are gathering for the annual GLOBSEC forum to discuss defense and geopolitical challenges. 

    “Vilnius should give a clear signal that politically, Ukraine is invited to join NATO,” Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European integration, told POLITICO on the sidelines of the conference, where she met with European counterparts.  

    “We need a unified commitment of all member states,” she added.

    NATO members are currently divided on how to address Ukraine’s push at Vilnius — one of the most sensitive question on the table ahead of the July summit. 

    Some allies on the eastern flank are pushing for a clear signal that Ukraine is moving toward membership. In order to maintain NATO’s credibility, they argue, the alliance needs to go beyond a vague 2008 pledge that Ukraine will one day become a member. 

    Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský told POLITICO on the sidelines of the GLOBSEC conference, “I have to say: What is everyone talking about, is Vilnius.”

    “I have my wish list” for the NATO summit, he said, “which is: Sweden in — and Ukraine invited.” The Czech minister acknowledged, however, that in a “coalition of 31 countries, it’s [a] complicated matter.”

    A number of Western European countries are holding the position that serious discussion of membership should wait until the end of Russia’s war. Although that doesn’t rule out NATO working more closely with Ukraine.

    For Kyiv, that’s not enough — it wants concrete momentum and steps toward NATO membership.

    Remaining stuck “in our discourse in the same place we are right now” on NATO membership would be “totally unacceptable for Ukrainians,” Stefanishyna said.

    There is a need for “ambition,” Lipavský argued, underscoring how Ukrainians are fighting “to be [a] free, independent, sovereign nation, and that sovereignty includes a right to choose who will you be allied with.”

    As ministers prepare to meet in Oslo, ideas that have been floated for addressing Kyiv’s aspirations range from issuing a declaration on Ukraine at the summit to setting up a new Ukraine-NATO council. And allies are already on board with expanding an assistance package focused on helping Ukrainian forces transition away from Soviet-era doctrine, equipment and standards.

    Kyiv wants more.

    “For me, as a deputy prime minister, it’s really important that [the] next day after Vilnius, I have people in headquarters to sit with and to work on the modalities,” Stefanishyna said.

    But while Kyiv is pushing hard politically to move closer to the alliance, Ukrainian defense officials say that their priority does remain the present conflict — which, for them, includes bilateral weapons aid.

    Kyiv has been asking its Western partners for more air defense systems, armored vehicles, tanks and training, said Kostiantyn Vashchenko, a state secretary at Ukraine’s ministry of defense.

    Echoing Stefanishyna, Vashchenko said in Bratislava, “Our goal is to be a member of NATO.”

    Asked whether the Ukrainian military meets NATO standards, the state secretary acknowledged the question is not immediate.

    “This issue will be actual after our victory.”

    Caliber.Az

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