NATO said on Tuesday that Ukraine would be invited to join the alliance, but did not say how or when, disappointing its president but reflecting the determination of President Biden and other leaders not to be drawn directly into Ukraine’s war with Russia.
In communication agreed by all 31 NATO nations, the alliance said that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” and it will be allowed to join when member countries agree conditions are ripe — but it offered no specifics or timetable. It pledged to continue supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia and to engage the alliance’s foreign ministers in a periodic review of Ukraine’s progress toward meeting NATO standards — both in democratization and military integration.
The wording means Mr. Biden, who said last week that “Ukraine is not ready to join NATO,” and like-minded allies won over Poland and Baltic nations who wanted a formal invitation for Ukraine to join the alliance as soon as possible. the war ends. NATO leaders released the document, a compromise product after weeks of arguing, at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Hours earlier, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine, apparently aware of what it would say, blasted the NATO leadership. “It is unprecedented and absurd when a time frame is not set, neither for the invitation nor for the membership of Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter before landing in Vilnius.
The NATO commitment went somewhat beyond its vague declaration in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine would eventually become members. Given Ukraine’s shaky democracy, corruption and old Soviet arsenal, this was a hazy prospect at best, and neither it nor Georgia subsequently joined.
Instead of membership, NATO leaders on Tuesday offered Mr. Zelensky a new one military aid to fight against Russia, promises of further integration and statements intended to tell President Vladimir V. Putin that his strategy of wearing down the European nations will not work. Their communiqué stated that Ukraine had moved closer to the alliance’s political and military standards.
Mr. Zelensky will have dinner with NATO leaders and participate in the first NATO-Ukraine Council on Wednesday, an effort to integrate the country into the alliance’s discussions even as a non-voting member.
But what Ukraine wants — and what Mr. Biden and Germany, among others, are hesitant to offer — is the main benefit of full membership: The promise of collective defense, that an attack on any single NATO country is an attack on all.
Mr Biden has warned that he does not want to be forced into direct combat with Russian forces, warning “this is World War III”.
Mr Zelensky threatened not to attend the meeting if he was unhappy with the NATO commitment. He and his top aides argued that if Ukraine had joined NATO, Mr. Putin might not have dared to invade and risk war with the Western alliance.
Historians and geostrategists will argue about what-if for years. But with the release of the communique, Mr. Biden appears to have gotten two of the things he most wanted from this summit.
With Swedish concessions and help from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Mr Biden helped persuade President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to lift his blockade of Sweden’s membership, which requires unanimous consent. And with the language adopted on Tuesday in Vilnius, there is still no set date – or even set conditions – according to which Ukraine will become a member.
The closest the statement comes to a commitment are these words: “We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met.”
As one significant concession, NATO agreed that Ukraine would not need to go through a preparatory process to prepare it for an invitation. Both Sweden and Finland, which joined this year, were also allowed to skip such a process.
Moscow made it clear that it was following the summit closely. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said that new weapons supplied to Ukraine “will force us to take countermeasures,” and criticized Turkey for allowing Sweden to join. Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said Russia would examine “how quickly and how deeply NATO is expanding on the territory of Finland and Sweden,” and would respond accordingly.
The dispute within NATO over its joint statement had deep roots, said Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation.
“There is a fundamental divide between the United States, Germany and other less vocal allies, who are committed to the principle of the open door to NATO, but without wanting to see a concrete timeline or automaticity, and those countries close to Russia, who are pushing very hard to transform the vagueness of Bucharest into something much more concrete,” he said. It was a 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, that promised Ukraine and Georgia eventual membership.
For the United States, Mr. Charap said, Ukraine’s membership too soon “involves the risk of a NATO-Russia war arising from a country at war with Russia entering the alliance,” he said, noting that Moscow has for many years called Ukrainian. membership in NATO red line. “For the others, Ukrainian membership is a path to peace and stability, because it will deter Russia and anchor Ukraine and end the instability.”
The Bucharest pledge was a way to kick the can of Ukrainian membership down the road. That may not be possible anymore, because of the war. “Someday the road ends, and we may reach that end,” Mr. Charap said.
The NATO alliance was eager to use this Vilnius summit as a display of transatlantic unity, and in that goal it largely succeeded. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in several interviews that Mr. Putin’s strategy was to wait for NATO nations to tire of the war. But the Russian leader, he said, “will not last over Ukraine, and the sooner he ends this war of aggression, the better.”
The allies came to Vilnius with more promises of weapons and military equipment for Ukraine to bolster its slow-moving counteroffensive: long-range “Scalp” cruise missiles from France; 25 more Leopard tanks, 40 additional infantry fighting vehicles, and two more Patriot air defense missile launchers. There was a $770 million package from Germany and $240 million from Norway for unspecified equipment and other support.
Additionally, the defense ministers of Denmark and the Netherlands announced that they have gathered 11 countries to help train Ukrainian pilots with F-16 fighter jets as soon as next month. Mr. Biden agreed in May to drop his objections to giving Ukraine F-16s, although that may not happen until next year.
The Scalp missiles are the same weapon as the Storm Shadows that Britain, in May, said it had sent to Ukraine. The missiles, jointly manufactured by France and Great Britain, have a range of about 150 miles.
France has previously ruled out supplying Ukraine with such missiles over concerns they could be used to attack targets in Russia, escalating the conflict. But President Emmanuel Macron said he was now sending Scalp missiles to help Ukraine defend itself.
The communique also had more than 60 references to nuclear weapons, warning Russia of “serious consequences” if it uses one in the war, while promising to modernize the nuclear forces of NATO’s three nuclear powers: the United States, Britain and France.
Kremlin officials have repeatedly suggested that Russia could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and it recently began deploying them in Belarus. “We condemn Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric and coercive nuclear signaling,” the leaders’ statement said.
The release also has lengthy sections on the threats posed by China. Although its wording is softer than its references to Russia, it argues that China poses a longer-term danger. The language is significant because in past years, NATO, focused on European security, hardly thought about China.
“The PRC seeks to control key technology and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains,” it said, using the abbreviation for People’s Republic of China. “It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence. It strives to overturn the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains.”
Taken together, the Russia and China sections of the communique leave little doubt that NATO sees the world entering an era of confrontation at least as complex as the Cold War.
Mr Stoltenberg was at pains to try to show reporters that NATO’s commitment to Ukrainian membership was different from the vague 2008 pledge.
He said NATO had moved much closer to Ukraine since Russia seized Crimea and fueled a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, and NATO began training Ukrainian troops. They have grown even closer since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year, when NATO countries began pouring tens of billions of dollars of military equipment into Ukraine.
Mr. Stoltenberg and U.S. officials argue that Mr. Zelensky will be able to return to Ukraine with a number of important prizes: direct involvement in NATO discussions about the war, a firmer commitment to Ukrainian membership, new commitments of military and financial aid for the medium. and more long-term, and the message of resolution that sends to Mr. Putin.