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Will Ukraine become the 33rd member of NATO, and when?

Will Ukraine become the 33rd member of NATO, and when? © Официальный сайт НАТО
What are Kyiv's expectations from the Vilnius Summit of the Alliance, and what should we prepare for?

Passing between Turkish Scylla and Hungarian Charybdis, Finland became the 31st member of NATO.

Sweden, the door to which is kept closed by Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, however, retains its chances of becoming the 32nd member of the Alliance at the summit in Vilnius. And even if the Kingdom of Sweden does not join the military-political union in the Lithuanian capital, the Swedish flag will still fly near the headquarters of the Alliance in the near future. At least NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is sure of this.

But the prospects of Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia for the tenth year, are still vague. What can Kyiv expect from the Vilnius summit? Can our country become a member of NATO? These are some of the issues discussed, in addition to arms supplies, by the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, this week in Brussels. There, despite the discontent of the Hungarians, for the first time since 2017, a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC) at the level of foreign ministers took place.

For the past nine months, the Ukrainian authorities have been repeatedly raising the issue of Ukraine's accession to the Alliance without the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) stage. Until recently, participation in the "preparatory group" was considered a mandatory procedure for candidates on the way to joining the Alliance. But the example of Finland (as well as Sweden) shows that it is possible to become a member of the defense union even without this stage.

Kyiv decided to take advantage of the precedent when, following Putin's announcement of the annexation of four Ukrainian regions last fall, it submitted an application for NATO membership to Brussels. "The issue of the Membership Action Plan (MAP) has been removed from the agenda because we submitted an application," Kuleba said in Brussels. However, Kyiv's position is not shared in all the capitals of the participants of the defense union.

From the point of view of Ukrainians, Ukraine's membership in NATO will strengthen the security of Europe and make the military-political organization stronger. After all, our country has one of the most capable armies in the world, armed with modern weapons and military equipment, with experience in conducting large-scale military operations. And the Alliance itself should be interested in Ukraine's membership, as it gets the opportunity to monitor reforms in our country in accordance with NATO principles from the inside.

However, the Ukrainian application, unlike the Finnish and Swedish, is still gathering dust on the table: the Alliance is in no hurry to give an answer, seeking to preserve uncertainty.

The fact that the application for joining NATO has not yet been considered is also explained by the desire of the member countries of the union not to irritate Moscow once again. Moreover, this can be attributed to the intention to reduce the risk of a direct armed conflict between NATO and the Russian Federation, and the desire to avoid demonstrating the lack of consensus in the Alliance. That is why NATO members often say to their Ukrainian counterparts who question Ukraine's membership in the defense alliance: we are arming you, why destabilize the situation then? Perhaps someone in NATO is considering Ukraine's membership as the last trump card in negotiations with the Russian Federation.

The prospect of Ukraine joining the Alliance under an accelerated procedure depends not only on the situation in the military-political organization itself and the Russian factor, but also on the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian front:both Ukraine and NATO are eagerly awaiting the Ukrainian spring counteroffensive. And Stoltenberg's opinion that the issue of NATO membership will not matter for our country if it does not win the military conflict is shared by many in the Alliance member countries.

Considering the above, Kyiv's goals regarding the Vilnius summit are reduced to the fact that NATO decides on specific steps that Ukraine should take in order to enter the doors of the Alliance, bypassing the "hallway" of the Membership Action Plan (MAP) stage; established specific terms for joining the military-political organization; replaced Annual national cooperation program Ukraine – NATO (ANC) with a new, smaller document. In addition, it is important that the members of the Alliance finally discuss the issue of security guarantees for our country for the period before Ukraine joins NATO.

Among the practical issues that are planned to be raised in Vilnius is another upgrade of the Comprehensive Package of Assistance for Ukraine (CPA). The CPA is a unified trust fund designed to strengthen our defense capabilities. It is expected that funds from it will be used for demining the territories of Ukraine, training and education of Ukrainian servicemen, rehabilitation of wounded servicemen and rearmament of our country according to NATO standards.

Stoltenberg has already called on allies to increase contributions to the CPA fund, allocating 500 million euros per year. Judging by Kuleba's comment, it was the "additional strengthening of the comprehensive aid package from NATO" that the Secretary General was talking about. In addition, he stated that the foreign ministers of the Alliance member countries officially supported the development of a long-term support program for Ukraine, which will help it to get closer to NATO.

"This is about additional strengthening of the comprehensive aid package from NATO. And it cannot be a substitute for membership and cannot be a condition for membership. This is a mechanism of practical assistance that NATO wants to make as powerful as possible, and in parallel, the process of making political decisions regarding Ukraine's membership in NATO is underway," said Kuleba. However, ZN.UA sources claim that the Alliance itself still does not fully understand what is meant by the vague idea voiced by Stoltenberg.

Although Kuleba declares that "Vilnius 2023 is an opportunity to correct the mistakes of Bucharest 2008", pessimistic predictions dominate in Kyiv: the Comprehensive Package of Assistance for Ukraine (CPA) will only be reformatted in the Lithuanian capital, and the Alliance will confine itself to general words on the issue of Ukraine's invitation to NATO. According to one version voiced by high-ranking interlocutors of ZN.UA, the barrier was put up by the USA, which wants "fateful, historic decisions" to be made at the anniversary summit in Washington.

However, if in 2024 they do not make a "historic decision" regarding Ukraine (and we are talking about an invitation to join the Alliance), this will be a signal to Kyiv that NATO does not, in principle, see our country as a member of the military-political union, and the words about an open door are just meaningless words. And Stoltenberg's words that Ukraine will become a member of NATO after the victory over Russia should be taken as a warning.

And how does the Alliance imagine Ukraine's victory over Russia? Ukrainian army on the demarcation line on February 24, 2022? Or do they consider the liberation of all occupied territories a victory? Earlier, Stoltenberg said that a meaningful dialogue with Ukraine regarding NATO membership is possible only after Ukraine secures its sovereignty.

If the door to the Alliance will be closed for Ukraine, how can our country ensure its security? Are Western partners ready to provide any security guarantees to Kyiv? After all, investments will not go to our country, and Ukrainian refugees will not return home, if there is a constant threat of renewed hostilities. How to behave in such a situation? Will peacekeepers be sent to our country, or will some "zones under international management" be created, as some Western experts suggest?

Several interlocutors of ZN.UA repeated: by not granting membership in NATO, our Western partners want to turn Ukraine into Israel, namely a country that is ready for defense every second and bound by special allied relations with the USA. The world's leading players are not ready to provide direct and unequivocal security guarantees to Kyiv, because they are not ready to fight if these guarantees are violated. They are only willing to commit to providing us with weapons and military support.

This is the position of our Western partners for today. Whether it will change depends largely on the results of the offensive of the Ukrainian army...

Read this article in russian and Ukrainian.

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