Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stepped up demands for Nato to make progress on his country’s bid to join the military alliance, increasing pressure on western governments as a debate over providing security guarantees to Kyiv intensifies.
Ukraine has long seen membership of the US-led military alliance as the foundation of its future defence and security, but Nato allies are divided over how and when it could take place, and whether offering Kyiv bilateral security guarantees is a possible step towards joining.
“Ukraine is ready to be in Nato. We are ready for when Nato is ready . . . We need all the unity through the alliance and we are working on it,” Zelenskyy said at the European Political Community summit in Moldova on Thursday.
“In Vilnius, a clear invitation to Ukraine is needed,” Zelenskyy told a meeting of close to 50 other European leaders, referring to Nato’s annual summit in the Lithuanian capital next month. “Doubts must vanish. Positive decisions for Ukraine will be positive for everyone.”
“There should be no hot war or frozen conflict on our continent,” Zelenskyy added. “When there are no security guarantees, there are only war guarantees.”
Ukraine’s president was speaking in Chișinău after Russia conducted its 18th air strike on Kyiv in the past 31 days, killing three people in the capital.
French president Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday called for Ukraine to be granted a Nato membership “path” next month. While he did not commit to endorsing full membership for Ukraine, it represented a potentially influential shift in Paris’ stance.
Intense discussions are now under way among Ukraine’s western backers about what form security guarantees could take and how much money would be pledged towards them, said a French official. The idea would be to line up bilateral security pledges made by countries, and then arrange others through multilateral organisations, including outside Nato.
France, the US and Germany have previously been cautious on providing any timetable for Ukraine’s Nato membership, something the UK, Poland and the Baltic states have led calls for.
“The only security guarantee that works . . . is Nato [membership],” said Estonia’s prime minister Kaja Kallas as she arrived at the summit hosted by Moldova’s president Maia Sandu.
But in a sign of the division over the issue, Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, said on Thursday that while Nato remained open to new members, “it is clear that we cannot talk about accepting new members [who are] in the midst of a war”.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday at a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Oslo he was “confident that we will find a consensus on the way forward” regarding Ukraine. “We have had good informal discussions already, and we agree on some core messages,” he added.
Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times that Nato must “anchor Ukraine in the transatlantic alliance so the only remaining question is when exactly” it joins.
He pointed out that Ukraine had been waiting 14 years since first applying to join Nato, and that was long enough. Giving Ukraine a concrete plan for perspective for Nato membership would be one of the criteria to define the success of the Nato leaders’ summit in Vilnius next month. “We have to set up the framework under which Ukraine becomes a member,” he said.
Mélanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, said Nato needed to offer “long-term security commitments for Ukraine”.
Macron acknowledged on Wednesday that there would not be consensus at the Vilnius summit about full Nato membership for Ukraine, but said France backed the idea of “security guarantees” that would be “strong, concrete and tangible”.
“We must be more ambitious on these questions than we have been in the past,” said Macron at the Globsec conference in Bratislava on Wednesday.