President Joe Biden and his team are in the midst of a high-stakes conversation with fellow NATO members on how and when Ukraine may join — a debate that could expose strains in the alliance ahead of a key summit.
The matter of Ukrainian membership in NATO is one of several issues leaders will tackle when they meet in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in mid-July. Also up for discussion are new defense spending commitments and a successor to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is planning on leaving his post in the autumn.
Yet it is the issue of Ukrainian membership that will prove one of the biggest flash points for the group, which has managed to remain remarkably united amid Russia’s unprovoked invasion.
At past NATO summits, the allies have produced a joint declaration outlining their shared views. A failure to reach a consensus this year would be hugely consequential and would signal trouble for the unity of the alliance as the war in Ukraine continues.
Some allies, particularly those in Eastern Europe who are located closer to Ukraine and Russia, have advocated for a more concrete path for Kyiv to join the defensive alliance once the war ends.
Other European officials, particularly those in western and southern Europe, have argued an expedited entrance of Ukraine into NATO could be too provocative and that it could amount to an extremely risky gamble for the alliance even if there is an end to the fighting, particularly if Russia still stakes claim over Ukrainian territory.
Biden and members of his administration have remained committed to the alliance’s current posture, which states Ukraine will eventually join NATO but without any certainty of when.
The divide has prompted urgent discussions ahead of the summit. The result of the conversations could determine whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends.
“If we are not acknowledged and given a signal in Vilnius, I believe there is no point for Ukraine to be at this summit,” he told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.
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