NATO states have responded to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s criticism of the perceived delay in Ukraine’s accession by stating that Ukraine can join the military alliance “when allies agree and conditions are met.”
The need to expedite the process is recognized in a communique issued by NATO, although a specific timeframe remains undisclosed. President Zelensky, who is currently in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius where the summit is taking place, expressed his frustration, highlighting the apparent lack of readiness to extend a NATO invitation or grant Ukraine full membership. In his quest for clarity and support, President Zelensky seeks to address concerns regarding the timing and intentions behind Ukraine’s integration into NATO.
Kyiv has acknowledged that it cannot pursue NATO membership while engaged in a conflict with Russia but expresses a strong desire to join as soon as hostilities cease. President Zelensky, however, raised concerns about the lack of an agreed timeframe, fearing that the absence of clarity could potentially turn Ukraine’s membership into a bargaining chip during negotiations with Russia. This uncertainty, he argued, would leave Ukraine in a vulnerable position.
While NATO has not provided a specific timeline or method for Ukraine’s accession, diplomats underscored that a clearer path to membership has been outlined, and the rigorous application process has been significantly streamlined. The alliance recognizes the growing interoperability and political integration of Ukraine’s armed forces with NATO, and commits to continuing support for democratic and security sector reforms in Ukraine.
Highlighting a positive development, diplomats pointed out the establishment of a new NATO-Ukraine Council, which held its inaugural meeting on Wednesday. This council grants Kyiv the authority to convene gatherings involving the entire alliance.
However, the decision not to provide a sense of timescale is seen as a setback for Ukraine. While it was unlikely to receive such specific details, President Zelensky’s characterization of the absence of a timetable as “absurd” has further underscored the perceived diplomatic challenges. Some member states within NATO express concerns that granting near-automatic membership to Ukraine could incentivize Russia to escalate and prolong the ongoing conflict.
The focus now will move to what long-term security guarantees Nato members will promise Ukraine as an alternative to early membership.
In the past, Western security pledges failed to deter two Russian invasions. Nato allies hope a third round will be robust and explicit enough to persuade the Kremlin that further aggression would be too costly.