-Speaking at Rammstein airbase in Germany after an unannounced visit to Ukraine the previous day, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told cameras that Ukraine’s membership of the alliance was coming. Regardless, and possibly to reassure those who fear the consequences of admitting a country already at war into the fold of the NATO nuclear mutual assurance club would mean, Stoltenberg made clear that the present conflict would have to be won first.
“NATO has stood by Ukraine for a long time, we continue to stand by Ukraine as they continue to repel the Russian aggression in their country, and we will stand by Ukraine in the future”, said Stoltenberg, remarking that Ukrainian President Zelensky agreed that he would visit the NATO conference in July. At the meeting, the NATo boss said he expected members to “re-commit to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, with substantial military support” and multi-year programmes.
This, he said, would allow full interoperability between Ukrainian and NATO troops on the battlefield, allowing them to fight side-by-side with common communications, equipment, and tactics, as all NATO members already do.
As Sweden and Finland recently discovered upon trying to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s latest war, getting the unanimous support of all members can be difficult. Promising to go to war on behalf of another nation is a considerable commitment, and in the case of Sweden, a country with whom you already have a dispute that is a present member can use their absolute power of veto on new members to extract concessions from the aspirant.
Yet that does not appear to be a problem for Ukraine, which has receive unanimous support, so says Stoltenberg. He said on Friday morning: “I said in Kyiv yesterday that Ukraine’s future is in the Euro-Atlantic family, and all NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a NATO member.”
That doesn’t mean Ukraine can join right away, however, as Finland did this year. The focus for now, the NATO Secretary General remarked, was to ensure there was a country to join NATO, a tacit statement that there would be no membership until Putin was defeated.
He said: “the main focus now, is of course, is on how to ensure that Ukraine prevails. What we do know is that our support helps Ukraine move towards Euro-Atlantic integration… but the main focus now is on ensuring that President Putin doesn’t win the war, that Ukraine prevails. Because without a sovereign, independent Ukraine there is no meaning in discussing membership.”
So while membership isn’t imminent, the remarks by Stoltenberg are a considerable development in a years-long campaign to get Ukraine into NATO, the country having first applied to start the joining process in 2008. A full, formal application to join was subsequently made in September 2022. Speaking in February this year, Stoltenberg also said that membership was possible but it was a “long-term perspective”.
While Stoltenberg’s announcement is good for Kyiv, it will certainly trigger protests from Russia, who have in the past that allowing Ukraine to join the alliance would trigger “world war three”. Speaking on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said preventing Ukraine from joining NATO was one of the key purposes of the war, which they euphemistically call a ‘special military operation’.