Jul 12, 2023, 6:51am EDT

What it means: NATO commits to eventual Ukraine membership without a timeline

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a press conference during a NATO leaders summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 12, 2023. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

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NATO said Ukraine would eventually be admitted into the 31-nation military alliance but failed to lay out a timeline, falling short of Kyiv’s hopes for a clear membership pathway.

We’ve collected top analysis on what NATO’s position, outlined during its annual summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, indicates for Ukraine going forward.

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  • Ukraine has long understood that it has no path to membership while Russia’s war rages. But there had been growing hope in the country for an accelerated pathway into NATO after the conflict ends, the historian Phillips O’Brien noted in his newsletter. Without it, Ukraine will be the only country bordering Russia that isn’t protected by the bloc. Ukrainians “want, indeed crave, some confidence in their future free of Russia,” O’Brien notes. NATO membership would offer that confidence, “and it would have been a powerful signal to them as a protected part of the European order.”
  • NATO’s “ambiguous” communiqué lacks any clear path to membership in the alliance. Christopher Skaluba, director of the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative, said that the document’s language “is a head-scratching and disappointing formulation.” While the upgrade of the NATO-Ukraine Commission to “Council” status and the removal of formal membership action plan requirements for Ukraine are major developments, “neither packs a political punch, nor will either move be viewed as real progress on the membership question,” Skaluba said.
  • Illia Ponomarenko, a defense reporter with the Kyiv Independent, wrote on Twitter that NATO’s argument that Ukraine must upgrade its military offering before joining the alliance is “a very weak excuse.” Ukraine has successfully fended off Russia’s full-scale invasion and liberated large swaths of occupied territories, Ponomarenko notes, and launched a major counteroffensive. “Let’s at least be honest and admit that it’s NATO being not ready now. Which is still understandable,” he said.
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In a statement released on Tuesday the alliance said that Ukraine would be given an eventual path to membership, saying that NATO “will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met.”

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized the communiqué’s vague wording shortly before the document’s release, writing on Twitter that “it seems there is no readiness neither to invite Ukraine to NATO nor to make it a member of the Alliance.”

Zelenskyy will engage in bilateral talks with the United States, Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan on Wednesday in hopes of securing additional arms as Ukraine’s counteroffensive continues.