Photo by Andriy Zhyhaylo/Obozrevatel/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images
- NATO members agree that Ukraine will join one day, the military alliance’s chief said.
- Jens Stoltenberg said multiple times this week Ukraine’s future is in the “Euro-Atlantic family.”
- Ukraine has long sought NATO membership, something Vladimir Putin deeply opposes.
The NATO chief said Friday that members agree that Ukraine will eventually join the decades-old military alliance, which would deliver another blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hopes of preventing alliance expansion.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Germany, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Ukraine’s future is in the “Euro-Atlantic family,” echoing comments he made during a press conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv the day prior, when he said Ukraine’s “rightful place is in NATO.”
“All NATO Allies have agreed that that Ukraine will become a NATO member. But the main focus now is of course on how to ensure that Ukraine prevails,” Stoltenberg said at Ramstein Air Base before meeting with defense ministers to discuss support for Kyiv’s forces as they continue to fight off Russia’s invaders.
Ukraine has long sought NATO membership. As early as April 2008, NATO said it “welcomed” aspirations from Ukraine and Georgia — the latter was attacked by Russia later that year — to join the military alliance. Allies agreed at the time that the two countries would eventually become members, NATO said. But 15 years later, neither has. Though it’s been discussed, there has so far been no movement.
Ukrainian soldiers of the 57th Brigade fire a mortar in the direction of Bakhmut, in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on April 20, 2023.
Photo by Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
When asked if there is a timeframe for when Ukraine could join NATO, Stoltenberg declined to provide any specific time but said that he has discussed both membership and security guarantees with Zelenskyy, who has a “very clear expectation” about joining the military alliance.
“No one can tell when and how this war ends. But what we do know is that when the war ends, we need to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself, that Russia is not able to continue to attack and to wage war again against Ukraine and to continue to chip away at European security,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO’s eastward expansion has long been a point of concern for Putin, who has claimed that the alliance is a threat to Russia’s national security, despite the purpose of the alliance being primarily defensive in nature. Hoping to prevent this further expansion of the alliance, which was not on the table at the time, Putin ordered the unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, talks to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 20, 2023.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP
But the move severely backfired. Not only has the war taken a significant toll on the Russian military, which is estimated to have suffered over 200,000 casualties, but it has also pushed historically neutral Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership. Finland officially became the 31st member of the military alliance earlier this month, a huge setback for Putin. Sweden’s accession remains stalled by Turkey and Hungary but is expected.
“Russia continues to fail in achieving its strategic objectives. They failed to seize Kyiv, they failed to topple the Ukrainian government, and they failed to fracture NATO,” US Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Friday. “In fact, they’ve done just the opposite. Kyiv stands, the people of Ukraine are emboldened, and NATO has never been stronger.”
That isn’t to say there aren’t challenges though.
Despite NATO’s “open door policy” for aspiring members, the White House has reportedly poured cold water on Ukraine’s attempts to move forward with its efforts to join the alliance. And other countries have also signaled some pushback. For instance, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has faced criticism for his alignment with Russia, wrote “What?!” in a Friday tweet that included a link to a media report about Stoltenberg telling Zelenskyy Ukraine belongs in NATO.
“The main focus now, is to ensure that Ukraine perseveres,” Stoltenberg said on Friday. “Because if Ukraine doesn’t prevail as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe, there is no meaning in discussing membership.”