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Zelensky's Objectives At NATO And The Outcomes Achieved

A breakdown of Zelensky's objectives at NATO and the outcomes achieved in the recent NATO summit in Vilnius as he was not granted the wish of extending an immediate invitation for Ukraine to join the alliance.

Hilda Workman
Jul 13, 202314053 Shares342749 Views
A breakdown of Zelensky's objectives at NATO and the outcomes achievedin the recent NATO summit in Vilnius as he was not granted the wish of extending an immediate invitation for Ukraine to join the alliance. In the summit's final communique issued on Monday, NATO acknowledged that Ukraine's future lies with the alliance, but refrained from specifying a timeline for when this future could commence.
Throughout the Russian invasion, Western allies have faced difficult decisions regarding Ukraine's requests for support, including artillery, Leopard tanks, F-16 fighter jets, and cluster munitions. Initially, these requests seemed extreme, but over time, some NATO members came to view them as reasonable and justifiable.
However, NATO membership carries far greater significance than the provision of military equipment, and it may take a considerable amount of time before Ukraine's ultimate aspiration of joining the alliance is realized. So, what exactly did President Zelensky seek to achieve at this summit? Were his demands realistic? And what outcomes did he ultimately secure?
Zelensky's aspirations were unequivocal: he sought nothing short of full NATO membership for Ukraine. During the July 2022 summit, Zelensky's demands were more restrained. It was only in September, following Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement recognizing Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia as Russian territories, that Zelensky initiated a bid for fast-track NATO membership.
Promptly after Putin's assertions, Zelensky declared that Ukraine would apply for NATO membership "under an accelerated procedure." Consequently, the issue was included on the agenda of the Vilnius summit for the first time.
NATO's open-door policy allows any European country to apply for membership, which has resulted in its expansion from the original 12 founding members to the current 31, soon to be 32 with the addition of Sweden.
In Vilnius, Zelensky took to the stage before an adoring crowd at Lukiskes Square, which was adorned with Ukraine's blue and yellow flag and a prominent banner displaying "#UkraineNATO33."
A blue flag carrying NATO's emblem
A blue flag carrying NATO's emblem

Was Full Membership Possible?

The prospect of Ukraine's NATO membership, symbolized by #UkraineNATO33, has elicited mixed reactions among alliance leaders, with a sense of apprehension prevailing.
It is important to understand the implications of NATO membership. Article 5 of the Treaty establishes the principle of collective defense, stipulating that an attack on one member is tantamount to an attack on all members.
Throughout NATO's history, Article 5 has only been invoked once, following the 9/11 attacks on the United States. If Ukraine were to join the alliance now, amid Russia's ongoing invasion, Article 5 would be triggered immediately, potentially embroiling 31 countries in a conflict with Russia.
Prior to the Vilnius summit, US President Joe Biden explicitly stated that full membership for Ukraine was not currently feasible. He highlighted in an exclusive interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria that there is a lack of consensus within NATO regarding Ukraine's immediate accession, especially in the midst of an ongoing war.
“We’re determined to commit every inch of territory that is NATO territory. It’s a commitment that we’ve all made no matter what. If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case,” said Biden.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace expressed a position aligned with that of the United States, emphasizing that admitting a new member in the midst of a conflict would be impractical.
According to him:
Whenever this conflict finishes, we should be prepared as quickly as possible to bring Ukraine into NATO.- UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace

What Would Zelensky Accept?

Months before the NATO summit, President Zelensky and Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba had already acknowledged that Ukraine could not join the alliance while the conflict was ongoing. During a news conference in Kyiv in February, Zelensky stated that although Ukraine was not seeking a substitute for NATO, he recognized the impossibility of becoming a NATO member while the war persisted.
Approaching the summit, Zelensky aimed to secure a clear pathway for Ukraine's future NATO membership once the conflict concludes, along with a defined timeline for when membership would be offered. However, following the summit, Zelensky issued a strong public statement denouncing NATO's refusal to provide a timeline as "absurd."
“This means that a window of opportunity is being left to bargain Ukraine’s membership in NATO in negotiations with Russia. And for Russia, this means motivation to continue its terror,” he said on Twitter.
NATO's decision to withhold a timeline for Ukraine's membership is understandable. In essence, the question of "When will Ukraine join NATO?" aligns with the query of "When will Ukraine win the war?" The alliance has made it clear that Ukraine's accession cannot occur prior to the resolution of the ongoing conflict.
“The most urgent task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails, because unless Ukraine prevails, there’s no membership issue to be discussed at all,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a news conference Tuesday evening.
US President Joe Biden speaking at the Vilnius summit with Zelensky standing in the background
US President Joe Biden speaking at the Vilnius summit with Zelensky standing in the background

What Did Zelensky Get?

The final communique of the NATO summit in Vilnius was published unusually late, around 6:40 p.m. local time. This delay was indicative of the disagreements among NATO members regarding Ukrainian President Zelensky's request for a clear timeline for membership.
Some members, including the United States and Germany, advocated for maintaining ambiguity regarding Ukraine's future membership, while others were more inclined to meet Zelensky's demands. President Biden had earlier mentioned that negotiations were underway to reach a consensus on the language surrounding Ukraine's potential membership, and these discussions took longer than anticipated.
“Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” the communique read. “We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met.
The alliance did make a significant concession to Ukraine during the summit by eliminating a key obstacle in the membership application process.
“(We) agreed to remove the requirement for a Membership Action Plan. This will change Ukraine’s membership path from a two-step process to a one-step process,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday.
A significant development at the summit was the removal of the Membership Action Plan (MAP) requirement for Ukraine's NATO membership. The MAP is a program that entails economic, defense, and security reforms that aspiring members traditionally had to undergo before joining the alliance. By eliminating this lengthy process, Ukraine's path to membership will be significantly streamlined once it receives a formal invitation to apply.
However, the removal of the MAP does not absolve Ukraine from the need for reforms. In a separate communique issued by the G7, it was emphasized that Ukraine's membership would still be contingent upon implementing reforms that demonstrate its commitment to democracy, the rule of law, human rights, media freedoms, and ensuring the sustainability of its economy.
While acknowledging that NATO did not extend a membership invitation to Ukraine during the summit due to ongoing necessary reforms, President Biden emphasized that waiting for the process to conclude was not a hindrance to boosting Ukraine's security. He stated that G7 members were committed to providing support to Ukraine in the interim.
Furthermore, the G7 leaders unveiled a new declaration of support for Ukraine during the summit, aimed at strengthening the country's military capabilities in the midst of the conflict.
That declaration, Biden said, “starts a process by which each of our nations, and any other nation who wishes to participate, will negotiate long-term bilateral security commitments with and to Ukraine.”
Zelensky thanked the G7 leaders for the new commitment. “The Ukrainian delegation is bringing home significant security, victory for Ukraine, for our country, for our people, for our children. It opens for us absolutely new security opportunities, and I thank everyone who made it possible,” he said.
During the summit, several NATO allies, including France and Germany, announced new military aid packages for Ukraine. These included France's provision of "Storm Shadow" missiles and Germany's commitment to a $770 million package. However, despite these contributions, it appears that Zelensky's ultimate goal of NATO membership will remain elusive for the foreseeable future.
Nevertheless, the importance of the summit's communique should not be overlooked. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace highlighted that prior to the summit, the question of Ukraine's NATO membership was still uncertain, marked by an "if." However, following the summit, the focus has shifted to the question of "when" Ukraine will join the alliance, indicating progress and a growing consensus within NATO.
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