Nato leaders are set to declare they are prepared for Ukraine to ultimately join the military alliance, in a carefully hedged statement that drew immediate condemnation from Kyiv for its lack of a firm timeframe.
A draft of a summit communique under discussion on Tuesday pledges to “extend an invitation” to Ukraine to join the alliance when “allies agree and conditions are met,” people familiar with the text told the Financial Times.
But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy immediately hit out at the 31-member alliance for negotiating the text without Ukraine at the table.
“It seems there is no readiness neither to invite Ukraine to Nato nor to make it a member of the alliance . . . For Russia, this means motivation to continue its terror,” he said.
The summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, has been dominated by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The draft communique will state that Kyiv’s “future is in Nato” without providing a timeline for its accession, the people familiar with the text said, stressing that the text could change before being agreed by all members.
But in a written statement, Zelenskyy said it was “unprecedented and absurd when [a] timeframe is not set, neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership,” and also attacked Nato’s “vague conditions” for inviting Kyiv.
The draft compromise had aimed to show Ukraine’s membership would be a potentially fast-tracked political decision that would bypass Nato’s formal accession process while nodding to US and German concerns about appearing to lower the bar for entry.
The issue of how to acknowledge Ukraine’s membership ambitions as it defends itself against Russian aggression has exposed divides between the US-led alliance in weeks of intense negotiations, with the US and Germany wary of implying that Kyiv’s membership is inevitable without conditions attached.
On the other side, mainly eastern members, with the backing of France and the UK, had called for the word “invitation” to be included in the statement and for an acknowledgment that it would be a political, not technical decision to invite Ukraine to join.
UK prime minister Rishi Sunak told reporters on Tuesday: “Ukraine’s rightful place is in Nato.” “What’s important at this summit is that that commitment is reaffirmed and that there is demonstrable progress towards that goal and I think that’s what you will see,” Sunak added.
But Dmitry Peskov, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that any move to speed up Ukraine’s admission into Nato would be “potentially very dangerous for European security”, according to Interfax.
“This carries a lot of risks and the people who will make this decision should admit that,” he said.
The draft text also states that allies “recognise that Ukraine’s path to full Euro-Atlantic integration” has moved “beyond the need for the membership action plan”, referring to Nato’s formal accession process. It also notes that Kyiv has “made substantial progress” on reforms.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, said at the start of the summit on Tuesday that he believed “allies will send a clear, united and positive message on the path towards membership for Ukraine”, adding that he expected the statement to be “made public within hours”.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan also signalled on Tuesday that allies would send a “united positive signal” on the matter.
Nato agreed in 2008 that Ukraine “will become” a member, but provided no timeline or accession process.
All member states agree that Ukraine cannot join the alliance while the war is ongoing, given that would trigger Nato’s Article 5 mutual defence clause and bring all members into the conflict.
“We are listening very carefully to the worries that some of the allies have,” said Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister. “If the war ends, then the opportunity window opens and Ukraine can join,” she said, adding that Nato was “working on very practical steps” for that.
The alliance is also discussing weapons provision to Kyiv as it seeks to push forward its counteroffensive against Russia. France said on Tuesday it would send its long-range Scalp cruise missiles to Ukraine to help it defend its territory against Russia. The missiles are the same as the Storm Shadow model already provided by the UK.
France’s announcement comes as all Nato allies stress that the primary objective is to ensure Ukraine has the weapons necessary to fight back against Russia’s invasion.