After weeks of tense negotiations, NATO on Tuesday invited Ukraine to join the alliance at some unspecified point in the future, but only when allies agree that conditions are ripe and that Ukraine has met the qualifications to join.
In its communiqué, agreed to by all 31 NATO members, the alliance says that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” promising to continue to support the country in its war against Russia and to engage the alliance’s foreign ministers on a periodic review of Ukraine’s progress toward reaching NATO standards — both in democratization and military integration.
The wording essentially marked a victory for President Biden, who recently declared that “Ukraine isn’t ready for NATO membership.” Just hours before the communiqué was issued, Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine sharply criticized the “uncertainty” over Ukraine’s path to membership in the alliance.
Alliance leaders struggled to agree on language about how to describe a timeline and conditions for what everyone agrees will be Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO. The battle inside NATO was not over whether Ukraine would join, but how and under what conditions. Some countries wanted an immediate invitation after the war ends; other countries, like the United States, wanted to avoid any notion that entry would be automatic.
While Mr. Zelensky wanted more, NATO officials argue that he will have numerous benefits to bring home from this summit, with closer ties to NATO, a firmer commitment to membership and specific offers of longer-term financial and military help.
Asked about Mr. Zelensky’s concerns, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, said that the most important thing now was to ensure that his country wins the war against Russia because “unless Ukraine prevails, there is no membership to be discussed at all.” Mr. Stoltenberg said the commitments now were different from the vague promise made in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would someday join the alliance, without specifying how or when.
Here are some of the alliance’s significant new commitments to Ukraine:
NATO agreed that Ukraine would not need to go through a preliminary and more time-consuming process to prepare it for an invitation to the alliance, called a Membership Action Plan. Both Sweden and Finland were also allowed to skip such a process.
The alliance is creating a NATO-Ukraine Council, a new joint body for Kyiv and the allies to deepen their relationship ahead of Ukraine’s membership. The inaugural meeting, which Mr. Zelensky is expected to attend, will take place on Wednesday in Vilnius.
The communiqué emphasized the urgent need to continue nonlethal assistance to Ukraine, extending an existing assistance program to “help rebuild the Ukrainian security and defense sector and transition Ukraine towards full interoperability with NATO.”
The document was unequivocal in condemning Russia, calling for Moscow to “completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its forces and equipment from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters.”
It also condemned Russia’s “irresponsible nuclear rhetoric and coercive nuclear signaling,” as well as plans to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus.