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A small group of Western allies are engaged in “advanced” and “frantic last-minute” negotiations to finalize a declaration of security guarantees for Ukraine ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Lithuania, according to four officials familiar with the talks.
For weeks, the US, UK, France and Germany have been discussing the issue with Kiev, and have also reached out to other NATO, EU and G7 allies. The idea is to create an “umbrella” for all countries willing to provide Ukraine with continued military assistance, even if the details differ from country to country.
The effort is part of a broader negotiation at NATO and among several groups of countries over how Western allies can demonstrate long-term support for Ukraine.
Kiev wants to join NATO as soon as possible, which would give 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 broadly agree that Ukraine can join only after the war ends, as soon as possible.
So the major powers in the alliance are working to see what security commitments each can give to Ukraine in the meantime. However, this view is not universal, with countries along NATO’s eastern flank pressing for Ukraine to have a faster path to ascent, even as fighting rages on.
The Western powers’ goal is to reveal their overall framework around NATO’s annual summit, according to officials in Berlin, Paris, London and Brussels, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. The two-day event kicks off on Tuesday in Vilnius.
“The discussion is ongoing; it is very advanced, in fact it is very advanced, and we are very hopeful that it will be finalized by the end of the summit,” a French official told reporters at a briefing.
A senior NATO diplomat agreed, telling reporters in a separate briefing that there were “feverish last-minute negotiations” happening at the moment “about what this should look like”.
Last minute details
US President Joe Biden is set to meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday in London, where their crews will huddle to try to work out last-minute details, according to another NATO diplomat familiar with the plans. On the American side, Pentagon policy chief Colin Kahl has been tasked with bringing the agreement to the finish line.
The initiative may ultimately amount to a promise to continue much of the assistance the allies are already providing: arms, equipment, training, financing, and intelligence. But the intention is to provide a more lasting signal of unity to Ukraine, especially since Kiev is unlikely to get the firm pledge on NATO membership it wants at this week’s summit.
“It is basically an assurance to Ukraine that we will, for a very long time to come, equip their armed forces, we will finance them, we will advise them, we will train them so that they have a deterrent force against any future aggression.
However, many of the details of this support will be left for later. The diplomat said it was up to each interested country to decide with Ukraine bilaterally “what your commitment is. And it could be anything, from air defense to tanks to anything.”
Last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz issued an “appeal to all countries that wish to support Ukraine,” saying they must “make decisions themselves that will enable them to continue to maintain this support for one, two, three, and if necessary we will be, more.” Of that, because we don’t know how long the military conflict will last.”
Aside from the security assurance declaration that Western powers are finalizing, NATO is also laying out new ways to assist the Ukrainian military for years to come.
Alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg, at the summit, will approve NATO plans to help modernize Ukraine’s defences to reporters Friday. He said the plan would include “a multi-year program of assistance to ensure full interoperability between the Armed Forces of Ukraine and NATO.”
This multiyear effort will also focus on Ukraine’s military modernization programs and, like the “umbrella” initiative, will depend on individual countries contributing as they see fit.
Stoltenberg added that NATO leaders would also set up a new NATO-Ukraine forum, giving both sides space to work on “joint operational activities.”
The broader security-assurance conversation has inevitably become intertwined with the debate over Ukraine’s aspirations to NATO, which will be high on the agenda when the leaders meet in Vilnius.
In the official statement to be issued during the summit, US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told reporters on Friday that “we will address Ukraine’s membership aspirations, and this is something NATO allies continue to work on.”
Specifically, the leaders aim to update the alliance’s vague 2008 promise that Ukraine will “become” a NATO member at some point. But they are not expected to make Kiev the “clear invitation” that Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky is asking for.
Schulz admitted that last week.
“Certainly, we will also discuss the question of how to continue to deal with the perspective of countries that aspire to NATO and want to join it,” Scholz said. But, he added, “It is also clear that no one can become a member of a defensive alliance during a war.”
However, Stoltenberg struck an optimistic tone on Friday.
“I am sure we have a clear message,” he said. “We have to remember that the Allies already agree on a lot of important principles when it comes to Ukraine and membership.”
Jacopo Pareghazi contributed reporting.
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