VILNIUS – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday slammed NATO negotiators for refusing to offer Kiev a concrete path to NATO membership in a draft communiqué that was drafted during an alliance summit.
Alliance leaders are gathering in the Lithuanian capital for a two-day summit and Ukraine’s bid to join NATO is the most sensitive item on the agenda.
In the latest draft communiqué from the summit, the Allies are now considering stating that « we will be able to extend an invitation to Ukraine when the Allies agree and conditions are met, » according to a senior NATO diplomat and a person familiar with the talks, who like others has been granted anonymity to discuss internal negotiations.
The language is not finalized yet, but the draft seen by Kiev on Tuesday infuriated the Ukrainian leader.
“We value our allies,” Zelenskyy tweeted. « But Ukraine also deserves respect. »
“It is unprecedented and absurd when [a] The timing is not set for either the invitation or the accession of Ukraine. While at the same time vague wording is added on ‘conditions’ for inviting Ukraine as well,” he added.
NATO allies are seeking a compromise that sends Ukraine a public signal that it is moving closer to the alliance and appeases allies – especially Washington and Berlin – who are hesitant to make promises at this moment that would make postwar membership automatic .
But the Ukrainian leader, expected at the Vilnius summit, is pushing for more.
“There seems to be no readiness either to invite Ukraine to NATO or to make it a member of the Alliance,” he wrote. “This means that a window of opportunity is left for negotiating Ukraine’s NATO membership in negotiations with Russia. And for Russia, that means motivation to continue its terror. »
US President Joe Biden told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday that he agreed « with the language you’ve been proposing regarding the future of Ukraine’s NATO membership. »
The Ukrainian leader’s tweet raised eyebrows in Vilnius.
« I am critical on many aspects and in particular on the attitude of some allies, but I think this is not a considered and fair approach, » said a senior central European diplomat, adding that Zelenskyj « is going too far ».
Some diplomats said they understood the Ukrainian leader’s feelings.
« His frustration is understandable given Russia’s war of aggression, » said NATO’s first senior diplomat. “It is always up to the allies to agree on the communiqué. The summit will show firm and unwavering support for Ukraine. »
A second senior NATO diplomat added: “We respect everything he says. Because they’re in the middle of a war and it’s understandable that they have the highest expectations. »
But, the diplomat stressed, “whatever the wording of our communiqué, all allies agree that Ukraine’s future legitimate place is in NATO and only we and they can decide on this. So the membership perspective is unquestionably clear and strong.
However, the person familiar with the current draft text said that the allies are sending a strong signal to Kiev that this language is almost final and that Ukraine should accept it.
While NATO’s eastern flank countries want to send a clear signal to Kiev on a path to membership during the summit, Washington and Berlin have been more cautious, preferring to focus on helping Ukraine push Russia back now.
« Look, we’ve already said that Ukraine’s place in the future will be in the alliance at some point, » US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in Washington. “They have reforms to work out. Rule of law, good governance, political reforms that need to be done, and they are at war right now… Eventually, yes, NATO will be on the front lines for them, but now is not the time for that. »
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Vilnius: « Now it is a question of actively supporting Ukraine in defending its sovereignty and integrity, including with the arms supplies that all countries are mobilizing », adding: « The United States and the Germany have participated very closely in the discussion to make it possible that we are doing exactly the right thing here.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has also been cautious about the conditions offered to Ukraine.
« Everyone has already said and stressed over the past year and a half that the future of Ukraine is in NATO, » he told a forum during the NATO meeting. « There are no doubts. It’s just a matter of how to go there. There are a few prerequisites that need to be met. There are certain circumstances that we need to take this step. »
Hans von der Burchard contributed to the reporting.
This article has been updated with US commentary.