The US is pushing back against efforts by some European allies to offer Ukraine a “road map” to NATO membership at the Western alliance’s next summit in July, according to a British media report quoting unnamed diplomatic sources.
The US is siding with Germany and Hungary against Poland and the Baltic States on giving Ukraine stronger links to NATO and unequivocal support for its future accession to the alliance, four sources involved in the foreign ministers’ discussions in Brussels this week told the Financial Times.
The report exposes the divisions within the 31-member military alliance ahead of the NATO heads of state and government summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in July.
Diplomats attending pre-summit talks in Brussels this week told the British daily that all of NATO’s 31 members agreed that, in the short-term, Ukrainian membership is not a realistic option. But this question of whether or not to offer Kyiv a “political path” to accession in Vilnius along with officially closer ties is likely to remain a source of contention, the FT reported.
“The road [to the leaders’ summit] is still very rocky,” a Western official told the paper.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had set out proposals to give Ukraine “practical and political” steps to deepen ties, most notably a new official statement on Kyiv’s future membership updating the 2008 declaration that Ukraine would “one day” join the alliance.
Ukraine applied for NATO membership in September, soon after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces. Finland became the Western alliance’s newest member on Tuesday, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Helsinki to abandon its historic neutrality.
Sending weapons to Ukraine is the NATO priority
US sources told the FT that Washington wants NATO members to focus on delivering Ukraine the weapons and aid to resist the Russian invasion – sparking discussions over whether Ukraine’s NATO membership was a distraction from that overriding priority.
“In order for us to get to the question of when and how to get Ukraine into the alliance, we must, as the secretary general has noted, ‘ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation’,” a senior US official told the FT.
The report came as British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also cautioned that now is not the time for a concrete conversation on Ukraine’s NATO bid.
In an interview with the news website, Politico, Cleverly acknowledged NATO’s commitment – made during a 2008 summit in Bucharest – that Ukraine will ultimately join the alliance. But echoing the view popular in some western capitals, he argued that this is a discussion for a later stage.
The US is by far Ukraine’s most generous patron, giving Kyiv more than $75 billion in military, financial and humanitarian aid since Russia invaded. At the same time, the Biden administration is keen to avoid any escalation that might risk escalating the crisis – as shown by its repeated refusal of Kyiv’s request for ATACMS long-range missiles, which would be able to strike deep within Russian territory.
Moscow has long cast the Russo-Ukrainian War as a battle between NATO and Russia – and Washington is anxious to avoid playing into that.
But for his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will only attend the Vilnius summit if NATO is ready to offer deeper ties and official security guarantees for Ukraine, if not full membership.
“I would like to tell all our partners, who are constantly looking for compromises on Ukraine’s path to NATO, that our country will be uncompromising on this issue,” Zelensky declared on April 5.