A small group of Western allies are engaged in « advanced » and « frantic last-minute » negotiations to finalize a security declaration for Ukraine ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Lithuania, according to four officials familiar with the talks.
For weeks the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have been discussing the issue with Kyiv, and have also addressed other allies of NATO, the EU and the G7. The idea is to create an « umbrella » for all countries willing to provide Ukraine with continued military aid, although the details vary from country to country.
The effort is part of broader negotiations at NATO and between different groups of nations about how Western allies should show long-term support for Ukraine.
Kiev wants to join NATO as soon as possible, giving it access to the alliance’s vaunted Article 5 clause: an attack on one is an attack on all. But many allies within the alliance largely agree that Ukraine can join only after the war ends, at the earliest.
So the major powers in the alliance have been working to see what interim security pledges they can offer Ukraine in the meantime. That view is not universal, however, with countries along NATO’s eastern flank pushing for Ukraine to be given a faster path to ascension, even as fighting rages on.
The Western powers’ aim is to unveil their umbrella framework around NATO’s annual summit, according to officials in Berlin, Paris, London and Brussels, who all spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussions. The two-day event starts on Tuesday in Vilnius.
“There is an ongoing discussion; it is quite advanced, indeed it is very advanced, and we are very confident that it can be concluded by the end of the summit,” a French official told reporters during a briefing.
A senior NATO diplomat agreed, telling reporters in a separate briefing that « frantic last-minute negotiations » were currently underway « about what it should look like. »
Last minute details
US President Joe Biden is expected to meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday in London, where their two staffs will meet to try to iron out last-minute details, according to a second NATO diplomat familiar with the plans. On the US side, Pentagon policy chief Colin Kahl is tasked with getting the deal to the finish line.
Ultimately, the initiative could amount to a promise to continue much of the aid that the allies are already providing: weapons, equipment, training, funding and intelligence. But the intent is to offer a more permanent signal of unity for Ukraine, especially since Kiev is unlikely to get the firm commitment on NATO membership it wants at this week’s summit.
« It is basically a guarantee to Ukraine that, for a long time to come, we will equip their armed forces, finance them, advise them, train them so that they have a deterrent force against any future aggression, » the senior diplomat said of NATO.
However, many details of this support would be left for later. The diplomat said that it will be up to each country concerned to determine bilaterally with Ukraine “what your commitment will be. And it could be anything from air defense to tanks to anything.
Last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made an « appeal to all countries that want to support Ukraine », saying they should « make decisions for themselves that allow them to continue to support that support for one, two, three and, if necessary, more years, because we do not know how long the military conflict will last ».
Aside from the security assurance statement that the Western powers are finalizing, NATO is also working out new ways to help the Ukrainian military in the years to come.
At summit, NATO to agree on plans to help modernize Ukraine’s defences, alliance head Jens Stoltenberg he told reporters on Fridays. The plan, he said, would involve « a multi-year program of assistance to ensure full interoperability between the Ukrainian Armed Forces and NATO. »
This multi-year effort will also focus on Ukraine’s military modernization programs and, like the « umbrella » initiative, will depend on the contribution of individual countries as they see fit.
NATO leaders will also create a new NATO-Ukraine forum, giving the two sides a space to work on « practical joint activities, » Stoltenberg added.
The broader conversation about ensuring security has inevitably become intertwined with the debate about Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, which will be high on the agenda when leaders meet in Vilnius.
In the formal communiqué to be issued during the summit, « we will address Ukraine’s membership aspirations and this is something NATO allies continue to work on, » US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told reporters on Friday.
Specifically, the leaders aim to update the alliance’s vague promise from 2008 that Ukraine will « become » a member of NATO at some point. But they are not expected to offer Kiev the « clear invitation » that Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seeking.
Scholz conceded a lot last week.
“Of course, we will also discuss the question of how to continue addressing the perspective of countries that look to NATO and want to join it,” Scholz said. However, he added, « it is also clear that no one can become a member of a defense alliance during a war. »
Stoltenberg nonetheless struck an upbeat tone on Friday.
« I am confident we will have a clear message, » he said. « We must remember that even the allies already agree on many important principles regarding Ukraine and accession. »
Jacopo Barigazzi contributed to the news.