BRUSSELS – Kiev is seeking a commitment on its NATO membership aspirations at a summit next month, the Ukrainian ambassador to the alliance said on Tuesday.
Speaking to POLITICO in Brussels, Ukrainian ambassador to NATO Natalia Galibarenko said her country wants « some sort of invitation – or at least commitment […] examine the times and modalities of our adhesion”.
NATO leaders are due to meet in Vilnius in mid-July for the alliance’s annual summit, and the issue of Ukraine’s membership push is set to become the most politically sensitive item on the agenda.
But Galibarenko, who has represented Ukraine at NATO since 2021, has presented a clear understanding of that possibility.
He acknowledged that, for many, any commitment “is a red line […] because they believe it creates a burden for them.
« I can understand the point – I can’t argue that, » Galibarenko said, stressing that « let’s be realistic, we’re not pushing right now to give us membership. »
A number of Western capitals held a serious discussion of Ukraine’s future place in NATO only after the end of the war.
Ukrainian officials say they understand the country will not join NATO while the fighting is on and that a direct invitation to join NATO is unlikely at the Vilnius summit, but they are still pushing for NATO leaders to make a « political decision » on membership.
« We are establishing some kind of commitment, for example – when conditions permit, when the war is over, » Galibarenko said.
There is pressure from both Kiev and several allies on NATO’s eastern flank for the alliance to go beyond 2008 agreement – made during a summit in Bucharest – that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance and that the next step would be a so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP).
In recent days, officials have it floated the idea that a compromise in Vilnius could be to drop the requirement for Ukraine to have a MAP on its way to membership.
Over the weekend, however, US President Joe Biden was asked if he would facilitate Ukraine joining the alliance indicated which is not conducive to shortcuts.
“I’m not going to make things easier for you. I think they’ve done everything related to demonstrating the ability to coordinate militarily, but there’s a whole question of: is their system secure? Isn’t it corrupt? It meets all the standards, » the US leader said, adding: « I think they will. I think they can. But it’s not automatic. »
When asked about Biden’s comments, the Ukrainian ambassador argued that Ukraine’s implementation of reforms would be easier once Ukraine joined the club.
« I think the president is right when he says there is a lot of work to be done, » he said.
But, the ambassador argued, other countries admitted to the alliance had their shortcomings; and some countries, such as Finland, have skipped the MAP process.
In any case, Kiev will continue to advocate a closer relationship with NATO, while acknowledging current limitations, he stressed.
« I’m trying to be pragmatic, » Galibarenko said, praising a planned NATO aid package, a « defense transition plan » to help Ukraine’s military modernize and a move to upgrade the existing NATO-Ukraine Commission in closer format of the NATO-Ukraine Council.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently threatened not to participate in the Vilnius summit if it does not receive a clear political signal from the alliance.
But Galibarenko downplayed it, describing the planned new assistance and the NATO-Ukraine Council as « an improvement in our relations. »
While the president « can’t just go back to Vilnius for the family photo », he said the new support forms a « solid foundation for the future president ».
A failed invitation to join the alliance would be a « bad message, » the ambassador said. But « it’s not the end of the world if there are no invitations to Vilnius, » he said. « So not today… but maybe tomorrow, next year in Washington, who knows? »