The NATO summit in Vilnius ended with expanded military and political aid for Ukraine, but a straightforward path to Membership in the Alliance was not included in the final communiqué.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky travelled to Vilnius in the hope that NATO would provide Kyiv with a clear perspective of when Ukraine might become a member of the Alliance.
Ukraine will join NATO “when Allies agree, and conditions are met”
However, the Vilnius summit resulted in limited achievements for Ukraine, with calls that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” and relations between the Alliance and Ukraine deepened following the inaugural meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council. Moreover, Ukraine achieved the removal of the Membership Action Plan on its path to NATO membership and extra security guarantees from G7 members.
While Ukraine was told it would no longer need a membership action plan, NATO stated that it would only be able to extend an invitation to Kyiv to join the Alliance “when Allies agree, and conditions are met”. The statement does not mention when that might be or what those conditions should be.
Ukraine’s post-MAP and pre-NATO status
Although Ukraine was not offered immediate NATO membership, a milestone was reached by removing the Membership Action Plan, making Ukraine post-MAP and pre-NATO. This is below Kyiv’s expectations, but it brings Ukraine a step closer to its membership goal.
As Ukrainian President Zelenskyy mentioned, the accession to NATO should happen “after the war.” Indeed, it was expected that NATO would not officially invite to its ranks a country which is at war, as it contradicts its principles.
“The summit’s results are good, but if there was an invitation, they would be perfect,” he said. “Ukraine understands that it cannot become a NATO member during a war. But clear signals that this will happen were heard confidently today”, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Moving beyond the Membership Action Plan for Ukraine was a significant step, but Ukraine is left without a concrete plan for getting it. The Ukrainian government still needs to ask the Allies to clarify the conditions and the timeframe.
Stoltenberg says the decision will streamline Ukraine’s accession process
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, tried to illustrate the communiqué positively, claiming that the decision at the Vilnius summit would streamline Ukraine’s accession process and make its Membership dependent only on a political decision.
Nevertheless, Ukraine’s closest allies left the summit disappointed that the terminology of the final communiqué was not stronger.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said the NATO declaration on Ukraine was “absolutely insufficient”. Estonia’s Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, said she could “understand Ukraine’s frustrations”.
Duda and Kallas have been two of the most tenacious advocates of Ukrainian NATO membership, along with the UK, France, and most of the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. The US and Germany, meanwhile, have taken a more cautious approach.
Ukraine’s NATO membership aspiration was backed by rallies of thousands of activities in around 40 cities in member countries before and during the summit. The communique left them disappointed as well, but still, Ukraine supporters can rejoice over positive outcomes.
New NATO-Ukraine Council, a tool for integration
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke optimistically about a new NATO-Ukraine Council. In this forum, Ukraine and NATO allies will meet as equals, hold crisis consultations and jointly take decisions.
“The Council is not just a tool for participation; it is a tool for integration. And it gives us the feeling that we will be part of the Alliance.”Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President
Volodymyr Zelensky met privately with US President Joe Biden, trying to determine precisely when Washington believes Ukraine’s accession to NATO can happen.
Thanking the US for ongoing military aid, including Joe Biden’s decision to endorse the delivery of cluster munitions to Ukraine, Zelensky described the meeting as meaningful.
More weapons for Ukraine
Indeed, weapons are a critical issue for Ukraine now as the war against Russia continues and Russian troops are still in Ukraine. According to NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, “the most urgent task now is to ensure Ukraine has enough weapons”. That’s a challenge for the Allies.
As NATO leaders met in Vilnius, it was reported that Ukraine’s daily use of ammunition is an estimated 2,000 to 7,000 artillery shells fired. At the same time, Russia’s use of shells is estimated to be over 20,000 per day.
The numbers worry NATO officials, as the bloc has never prepared for wars with that intense artillery strikes and massive deployment of tanks.
G7 security guarantees for Ukraine
Meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit, leaders of the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US) agreed on a package of new military and economic support commitments for Ukraine to deter Russian military aggression before Kyiv joins NATO.
The military aid package includes more air defence, long-range missiles and fighter jets. The package offers Ukraine more military training, intelligence sharing and assistance with cyber technology. Ukrainian President called the G7 security guarantees “a significant security victory.”
Clear timeline for membership invitation and necessary conditions are still to be determined
Although the Vilnius summit delivered a vague message from the Alliance regarding Ukraine’s NATO membership, the Alliance leaders restated that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO”. Kyiv will need to seek a stronger commitment, a clear timeline for the membership invitation, and precise terminology on the necessary conditions to be fulfilled.
At this stage, NATO officials are afraid to formulate clearly that Ukraine will be accepted into the Alliance, even with the mention after the war, since the war with Russia is going on. This wording helps to avoid speculations over the war between Moscow and an upcoming NATO member and disagreements inside the Alliance.
At the same time, Kyiv made significant achievements under these circumstances: a consensus for Ukraine’s Membership, dropping the Membership Action Plan stage, and establishing the NATO-Ukraine Council.
Secondly, Ukraine secured a substantial military aid package: multi-year assistance from several NATO nations, including training of pilots for F16 fighter jets and Scalp long-range cruise missiles, and cluster munitions.
The NATO summit confirmed that Russia must be held accountable for its unprovoked war against Ukraine and that Moscow is the primary threat to Euro-Atlantic security. This threat weakens as Ukraine’s Armed Forces defeat Russian invaders on the frontlines thanks to modern Western weapons.