Tuesday, July 16, 2024

NATO pledges continued support for Ukraine but won’t promise membership


NATO leaders are set to unveil new steps to train and arm Ukraine at an alliance summit this week, but will stop short of making concrete progress toward its membership in the Western bloc, highlighting questions about how Kyiv will prevail in its grinding war with Russia.

President Biden will host leaders from more than 30 countries in the U.S. capital for a gathering marking NATO’s 75th anniversary, as he and other leaders try to shift attention away from the grim battlefield outlook in Ukraine and their own domestic challenges by highlighting the alliance’s continued support for Kyiv.

The urgency of NATO’s mission was on full display Monday when Russian missiles struck a children’s hospital and other sites in Kyiv, underscoring the need for air defense assets and other military equipment Ukraine needs to fend off a larger, better-armed enemy.

Russia has managed to defy a series of Western sanctions imposed in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s 2022 invasion, instead bolstering its forces and military production as it seeks to consolidate control over vast swaths of Ukraine.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the meeting would highlight how NATO, with its new members Finland and Sweden, is rising to the challenge of pushing back against the Kremlin’s assault on international norms.

“The Washington summit will send a strong signal to Mr. Putin that if he thinks he can stand up to the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine, he is once again completely wrong,” he told reporters on Monday.

Against the backdrop of Ukraine’s struggle to maintain its military efforts – along with European concerns about the potential for unrest under a second Trump presidency and the rise of far-right parties in some NATO member states NATO leaders are expected to announce a package of modest solutions for Ukraine.

These include the shift from US to NATO control. The core elements of the effort to arm and train Ukraine, and other measures that officials portray as a “bridge” to Ukraine’s future accession to the alliance, remain contentious among NATO members, some of whom fear accommodating a country embroiled in a conflict with a nuclear superpower.

Ivo Daalder, who served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO during the Obama administration, said the new measures were an “important step forward” that would move the alliance forward. More details on daily actions in support of Ukrainian military efforts.

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“This agreement would bring Ukraine closer to NATO in practical and operational terms,” Daalder said. “But what it does not do is resolve the strategic issue of when Ukraine will become a NATO member?”

Officials were still racing to finalize the summit statement on Monday, the eve of the summit. Nine officials familiar with the talks, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations, said the latest proposal would offer Ukraine an “irreversible” path to NATO membership but would also include expansive language about the need for Kyiv to enact anti-corruption and good governance reforms before it could join.

The language was the result of an agreement reached by Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, and U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the officials said, reflecting Biden’s continued reservations about Ukraine’s path to NATO membership.

NATO members who support a faster path to membership for Ukraine sought to include the word “irreversible” to show that Kyiv has moved closer to joining the alliance since last year’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Some acknowledged that the word was more symbolic than substantive.

Biden, who has been more resistant to the issue than many of his top aides, initially rejected the plan to include the no-retreat language, and in more than one Oval Office meeting he said much work remained to be done to combat corruption before Ukraine could gain membership, according to U.S. officials and a former official.

in Interview in MayThe president said he was “not prepared to support Ukraine’s accession to NATO,” which seemed to rule out the country’s membership altogether and contradicts the official US government position.

Biden continued to express skepticism in talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Washington last month, saying the more cautious “bridge to NATO” language already used by U.S. officials would suffice, the officials said.

When Biden’s top advisers became Once again the president threw Officials said Sullivan was able to secure support for the “irreversible” wording after the Stoltenberg talks on the condition that the United States also demand language that would indicate the need for Ukraine to make significant progress on corruption and political accountability before membership.

The discussions were a sign of Biden’s concern that accepting Ukraine before it was ready could ultimately burden it. Officials said the alliance with corruption poses challenges that will be difficult to eradicate.

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“Ukraine is not a small Balkan country that we talk about. It is a huge country and it will have a big impact,” one official said.

NATO diplomats said Biden’s approach, while supported by Germany and some southern and western European member states, has also led to frustrations among others – particularly France and some eastern European states – that the conditions risk sending a message that the alliance would prefer Ukraine not to join at all.

Even if Ukraine could solve all its corruption problems tomorrow, there is a more fundamental challenge in inviting the country to join NATO now, said Eric Cerramella, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former White House aide for Eurasia.

“The real problem is that we do not know how to provide security guarantees to a country at war with Russia. We cannot determine the conditions under which we should deal with this issue,” he said. [for such a guarantee] “Unless the war is over, saying that would encourage Russia to continue the war.”

For now at least, senior Ukrainian officials appear to be publicly focused on what their country stands to gain, rather than on what remains out of reach.

“We are looking forward to some serious and strong decisions from the Washington summit on concrete air defense systems because it is one of the most important moments,” Yermak told reporters in Washington ahead of the summit.

US and NATO officials sought to portray the expected results, after The last peace summitThey also highlighted a new G7 decision to release $50 billion in proceeds from frozen Russian assets to Ukraine and recent US moves. Sending additional air defense interceptor missiles And allowing Ukraine to use American weapons to strike specific locations inside Russia, although some key targets remain out of reach.

But the summit’s offers to Ukraine were less ambitious than Kyiv and some alliance members had hoped. In the months leading up to the summit, grand plans to “protect” Ukraine from Trump were watered down as allies disagreed on the details.

For example, this spring, Stoltenberg floated the idea of ​​creating a multiyear fund to secure commitments from allies and protect aid to Ukraine from the winds of political change. Some allies, including the United States, have expressed a willingness to provide assistance to Ukraine. But at the same time, NATO countries have shown a willingness to accept the idea of ​​a multi-year commitment. Instead, the alliance is expected to announce a plan to maintain the current level of military aid — about $40 billion — for next year.

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One of the most significant achievements this week will be the creation of a new NATO structure that will take over some of the functions of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the body that has been coordinating military assistance to Kyiv since 2022 under U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, including training Ukrainian forces.

While Ukraine won’t get an invitation to join NATO in the near term, the summit will still send Putin a message that the alliance is not withdrawing from the fight, said Jim Townsend, a former Pentagon official for Europe.

“What they’re going to get is more than just cosmetics, it’s improvements in how we help Ukraine in the years to come,” he said. “So it’s like looking at the glass half empty, or the glass half full.”

U.S. officials are seeking to highlight Ukraine’s improving trajectory after Congress passed a major aid package after months of delays. While the battle lines have remained largely unchanged for more than a year, they say Moscow is likely to face increasing challenges in maintaining its advantages on the battlefield.

“Ukraine is still under pressure; the conflict is still very active; we shouldn’t be looking at things with rose-colored eyes,” a senior administration official said. “But the tension lines have stabilized, and Russia is incurring high costs that force it to rely on poorly trained forces, which plays into Ukraine’s hands.”

U.S. officials have also sought in the run-up to this week’s talks to temper Ukrainian leaders’ expectations about their path to membership, hoping to reduce the chances that they will explode in public frustration over the lack of a rapid accession plan, as Zelensky did during last year’s summit.

“[Zelensky] “Whoever does this will be told: ‘Please don’t do it again,'” a senior NATO official said.

Rainerio Manuel
Rainerio Manuel

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