BRUSSELS — Kyiv is seeking a commitment on its NATO membership aspirations at a summit next month, Ukraine’s ambassador to the alliance said on Tuesday.
Speaking to POLITICO in Brussels, Ukrainian Ambassador to NATO Natalia Galibarenko said her country wants “some kind of invitation — or at least commitment […] to look at the timeframe and modalities of our membership.”
NATO leaders will gather in Vilnius in mid-July for the alliance’s annual summit, and the question of Ukraine’s membership push is set to be the most politically sensitive item on the agenda.
But Galibarenko, who has been representing Ukraine at NATO since 2021, presented a clear understanding of that possibility.
She acknowledged how, for many, any commitment “is a red line […] because they do believe that it creates a burden for them.”
“I can understand the point — I cannot support it,” Galibarenko said, while underscoring that “we are realistic, we are not pushing right now to give us the membership.”
A number of Western capitals have advocated for a serious discussion about Ukraine’s future place in NATO only after the war is over.
Ukrainian officials say they understand that the country won’t join NATO while fighting is ongoing and that an outright invitation to join NATO is unlikely at the Vilnius summit — but they are still pushing for NATO leaders to make a “political decision” on membership.
“Let’s stipulate some kind of a commitment, for example — when conditions allow, when the war will be over,” Galibarenko said.
There is pressure from both Kyiv and numerous allies on NATO’s eastern flank for the alliance to go beyond a 2008 agreement — made during a summit in Bucharest — that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance and that the next step would be a so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP).
In recent days, officials have floated the idea that a compromise at Vilnius could be to drop the requirement for Ukraine to have a MAP for its road to membership.
Asked over the weekend, however, if he would make it easier for Ukraine to join the alliance, U.S. President Joe Biden indicated that he is not in favor of shortcuts.
“I’m not going to make it easier. I think they’ve done everything relating to demonstrating the ability to coordinate militarily, but there’s a whole issue of: Is their system secure? Is it non-corrupt? Does it meet all the standards,” the U.S. leader said, adding: “I think they will. I think they can. But it’s not automatic.”
Asked about Biden’s comments, the Ukrainian ambassador made the case that implementing Ukraine’s reforms would be easier once it has joined the club.
“I think the president is right in terms of saying that there is a lot of work to be done,” she said.
But, the ambassador argued, other countries admitted to the alliance had their shortcomings; and some countries, like Finland, got to skip the MAP process.
In any case, Kyiv will keep advocating for a closer relationship with NATO — while acknowledging current limitations, she emphasized.
“I’m trying to be pragmatic,” Galibarenko said, praising an expected NATO aid package, “defense transition plan” to help Ukraine’s armed forces modernize and a move to upgrade the current NATO-Ukraine Commission into the closer NATO-Ukraine Council format.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has recently threatened not to attend the Vilnius summit if he does not get a clear political signal from the alliance.
But Galibarenko downplayed that, describing planned new assistance and the NATO-Ukraine Council as “an upgrade of our relations.”
While the president “cannot just go again to Vilnius for the family photo,” she said the new support amounts to a “solid basis for the president to come.”
A lack of invitation to join the alliance would be a “bad message,” the ambassador said. But “it’s not the end of the world if there will be no invitation in Vilnius,” she said. “So not today … but then maybe tomorrow, next year in Washington, who knows?”