Ukraine to be offered 'enhanced political relationship' with Nato

US permanent representative Julianne Smith says allies holding 'rich conversations' about Ukraine’s desire to join alliance

US permanent representative to Nato Julianne Smith played down hopes Ukraine might soon become a full member. EPA
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US permanent representative to Nato Julianne Smith said on Wednesday that Ukraine will be offered an enhanced “political relationship” with the alliance at a summit in July.

But she played down hopes it might soon become a full member.

“I think the allies are united and very interested in having a package of deliverables for [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskky,” said Ms Smith during an online brief with journalists.

“Of course, our positions are clear. […] Russia doesn’t get a veto on Nato open door policy. We support Ukraine’s euro-Atlantic aspirations to fully integrate in euro-Atlantic institutions.”

Yet “one or two” countries within the alliance are opposed to Ukraine joining Nato, said Ms Smith, who declined to name them.

“I think the best way to describe it is that there’s a rich conversation going on across the alliance with a whole array of views.”

Ms Smith described those discussions as “nuanced and complicated”.

“I’m not worried,” she added. “I think we’re going to have a lot to say about Nato and Ukraine and are going to have concrete deliverables in hand.”

Ms Smith said that two packages are expected to be announced at the July 11-12 summit in Lithuania, one involving long-term practical support to Ukraine’s army in terms of standardisation and another focusing on a political partnership.

“We’ll have more to say about that in Vilnius,” added Ms Smith.

The US ambassador said she hoped to see Sweden join Nato before or during the summit and praised the “remarkable dialogue” between Sweden and Turkey.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blocked the Scandinavian country’s bid to join the alliance, claiming that Stockholm is not doing enough to help it fight Kurdish militants deemed to be terrorists by Ankara.

Ms Smith’s comments came as senior Turkish and Swedish officials met in Ankara to discuss Turkey’s concerns. Finnish officials were also present.

Sweden had initially hoped to become a member of the alliance at the same time as Finland, which finalised its accession bid on April 4.

The two countries filed a joint request in May after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Sweden has strengthened its anti-terror legislation to satisfy Turkey.

Protests during which copies of the Quran were burnt in Stockholm further inflamed tensions between the two countries.

Yet Mr Erdogan on Wednesday seemed to rebuff growing international pressure on him to ratify Sweden’s Nato membership.

In remarks released by his office, he said that “Sweden has expectations. It doesn't mean that we will comply with them.”

“In order for us to meet these expectations, first of all, Sweden must do its part.”

Hungary is the other holdout, but is expected to back Sweden’s membership as soon as Turkey signals it plans to do so, as the country did with Finland’s application.

Updated: June 14, 2023, 11:50 AM