World

Nato leaders to offer Ukraine major support package but not membership for now

Czech Republic President Petr Pavel welcomed Volodymyr Zelensky to Prague (Petr David Josek/AP)
Czech Republic President Petr Pavel welcomed Volodymyr Zelensky to Prague (Petr David Josek/AP) Czech Republic President Petr Pavel welcomed Volodymyr Zelensky to Prague (Petr David Josek/AP)

Nato leaders will agree next week to help modernise Ukraine’s armed forces, create a new high-level forum for consultations and reaffirm that it will join their alliance one day, the organisation’s top civilian official has said.

But the war-torn country will not start membership talks soon.

At a two-day summit starting on Tuesday in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, US President Joe Biden and his counterparts will also agree to boost defence spending as allies pour weapons, ammunition and other support such as uniforms and medical equipment into Ukraine, 17 months into the war.

They also hope to welcome Sweden as the next member of the world’s biggest security organisation, if they can overcome Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objections, even though its accession would only be made official in the coming months.

“For 500 days, Moscow has brought death and destruction to the heart of Europe, seeking to destroy Ukraine and divide Nato,” secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Friday. “At the summit, we will make Ukraine even stronger, and set out a vision for its future.”

Mr Stoltenberg said the leaders “will agree a multi-year programme of assistance to ensure full interoperability between the Ukrainian armed forces and Nato”.

A Nato-Ukraine Council – where crisis talks can be held – will be established. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend the council’s first meeting in Vilnius on Wednesday.

Mr Stoltenberg said the leaders “will reaffirm that Ukraine will become a member of Nato and unite on how to bring Ukraine closer to its goal”.

Nato first pledged that Ukraine would become a member one day in 2008, but things have evolved little since then.

Asked when, or how, Ukraine might join, Mr Stoltenberg said that the “most important thing now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails”.

US President Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden US President Joe Biden and his counterparts will also agree to boost defence spending (Meg Kinnard/AP)

The US, Germany and some other allies consider that Ukraine should not be invited in while it’s at war, so as not to encourage Russia to widen the conflict.

With Ukraine imploring its Western partners for more weapons and ammunition, and national military stocks among its partners depleting, Nato is encouraging the 31 allies to boost their military budgets.

In 2014, Nato allies pledged to move towards spending 2% of GDP on defence by 2024. In Vilnius, they will make 2% the minimum, but will not set any timeframe for achieving that goal, Nato officials say. Under new estimates released on Friday, only 11 of the allies will reach the 2% goal in 2023.

But Mr Stoltenberg said that good progress is being made. “In 2023, there will be a real increase of 8.3% across European allies and Canada. This is the biggest increase in decades.”

Question marks remain about Sweden’s future at Nato. It abandoned a long history of military nonalignment last year to seek protection under the organisation’s security umbrella after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Mr Erdogan appears set to steal the summit limelight. He accuses Sweden of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara says pose a security threat, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.

Czech Republic President Petr Pavel with Volodymyr Zelensky
Czech Republic President Petr Pavel with Volodymyr Zelensky Czech Republic President Petr Pavel welcomed Volodymyr Zelensky to Prague (Petr David Josek/AP)

Hungary is also holding up approval of Sweden’s candidacy, but has never clearly stated publicly its concerns. Nato officials expect that Hungary will follow suit once Turkey lifts its objections.

The other 29 allies, Sweden and Mr Stoltenberg have all said the country has done enough to satisfy Turkey’s demands. Sweden has changed its constitution, modified anti-terror laws and lifted an arms embargo on Turkey, among other concessions.

NATO requires the unanimous approval of all 31 members to expand.

Mr Stoltenberg, Mr Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will hold talks in Vilnius on Monday in an attempt to break the deadlock.

Despite the mounting pressure, Turkey’s president stood firm Friday.

At a graduation for military students, Mr Erdogan said: “We are ready to embrace anyone who is loyal to the alliance’s core values.

“We do not hesitate to show our reaction toward those who protect terrorists and do not take the necessary measures in the fight against terrorism.”

Mr Stoltenberg was speaking a day after Mr Zelensky visited the capitals of Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, discussing military aid and receiving assurances of support for Ukraine’s entry into Nato after the war with Russia is over.

Czech President Petr Pavel said it is in the interest of his country and Ukraine that as soon as the war ends negotiations about Nato membership begin.

Earlier on Thursday, during a brief visit at the invitation of Bulgaria’s new pro-Western government sworn in a month ago, Mr Zelensky also discussed European integration and bilateral energy co-operation.