Zelensky Will Not Attend the NATO Summit Unless His Ultimatum Is Met – FT
Friday, June 2, 2023
Ahmed Adel, Cairo-based geopolitics and political economy researcher
The Financial Times reported that Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky has made it clear to NATO leaders that he will not attend the July summit in Lithuania unless a roadmap is proposed for Kiev’s entry into the alliance. According to FT, in addition to the plan for joining the alliance, Zelensky also wants alliance-specific guarantees.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba stated that Ukraine would not be satisfied with any other decision of the July summit other than the invitation to join NATO. Previously, the Ukrainian president stated that the country would not join the alliance until the end of the conflict but would like the support of partners and a membership invitation. In September 2022, Zelensky announced Ukraine’s candidacy to join NATO on an expedited basis.
The secretary general of the Atlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, acknowledged the bloc’s position on the right of each country to determine its path and stressed that the “open door” policy remains, emphasising that the alliance would spare no effort in helping Kiev to defend itself.
“Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO. And over time, our support will help you make it possible,” Stoltenberg declared during his visit to Kiev in April 2023.
If NATO were to grant Ukraine membership, it would automatically drag the entire alliance into a direct war with Russia — a nuclear power that has regularly warned it would use its nuclear weapons if it were under existential threat. For this reason, NATO leaders have clarified that Ukraine’s membership prospects are untenable if the war continues; thus, Zelensky’s ultimatum demonstrates his entitled attitude even more.
Sources told DW that NATO countries have been unable to find a consensus on what this means for Ukraine’s membership prospects in the short- to medium-term. Several former Soviet bloc NATO members are seeking formal commitments to Ukraine — pledges such as a pathway or a timetable that could be given to Kiev at a summit of NATO leaders in July in Vilnius.
Zelensky, despite his ultimatum, is still expected to attend the meeting and make the plea for Ukraine’s need for a concrete roadmap to becoming a NATO member and for more weapons. However, even Washington, a huge backer of the Ukrainian military, does not seem inclined to make formal accession promises to Kiev, even if the administration of US President Joe Biden says it remains steadfast in its commitment to NATO’s “open door” policy.
“We will look for ways to support Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” Dereck Hogan, the top US diplomat for European and Eurasian Affairs, told reporters in Washington. “But right now, the immediate needs in Ukraine are practical, and so we should be focused on building Ukraine’s defence and deterrence capabilities.”
NATO’s major members now no longer openly path a roadmap for Ukraine’s membership, as they once did. The US and France are restraining support for Ukraine due to upcoming elections, and Germany has repeatedly said it wants to prevent a total isolation of Russia in the post-war European security architecture.
It is recalled that those member states adopted a completely different language at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 when they agreed that Ukraine and Georgia are prospective members of the alliance but stopped short of extending a formal invitation. However, given the success of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War and the current demilitarisation operation in Ukraine in blocking Tbilisi’s and Kiev’s NATO accession, alliance members are fully aware that Russia will take devastating action if they directly intervene.
Although it is impossible for Ukraine to become a NATO member at this current junction, NATO leaders seek to send a positive signal to Kiev without making substantial decisions on the principles or the timing of possible membership. One such proposal is to upgrade Ukraine’s political relationship with NATO, but this is mostly bureaucratic. There is, of course, the potential for increased and deeper joint military exercises, but again, this is very far from what Ukraine wants, the highly-coveted collective defence pact – Article 5, which states that an armed attack against one member of the alliance is an attack on all members.
At the same time, Western countries are increasing pressure on Turkey to admit Sweden to NATO, with the country’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, writing in the Financial Times that a new anti-terror law which entered force on June 1 delivered “on the last part” of an agreement to secure Ankara’s support for entry into the military alliance.
A senior Swedish official said: “This terror law is our big hope for unlocking the situation. Then it’s up to Turkey to decide.”
However, this should not give encouragement to Ukraine because Turkey’s impasse with Sweden is over the Scandinavian country’s hosting of Kurdish and political dissidents. Stockholm can overcome this relatively minor issue if it submits to Ankara’s demands. Going to war with Russia for the sake of a new member like Ukraine is an entirely different prospect, in any case. No number of ultimatums and entitled behaviour by Zelensky will change the position of NATO member states.
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