Nato-Ukraine council to be established soon, Stoltenberg says

Nato secretary general says Ukraine will not be invited to join the alliance at next summit in July

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at Nato headquarters in Brussels on Friday. AFP
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Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday said that a Nato-Ukraine council will be inaugurated at the alliance's next summit in Lithuania in July, putting a framework forward for an enhanced political relationship with Kyiv.

"Ukraine will be equal to Nato allies and consult and decide on security issues of mutual concern," Mr Stoltenberg said in Brussels at the end of a two-day summit of Nato defence ministers.

"Our ambition is to have the first meeting of the new council in Vilnius, with [Ukrainian] President Zelenskyy," said Mr Stoltenberg.

Mr Stoltenberg's announcement came against a backdrop of intense discussions among the alliance's 31 allies about how to respond to Ukraine's strong desire to join Nato.

Ukraine wants full membership but there have been rumours that some countries fear that may trigger a full-on war with Russia.

Allies are required to respond collectively to an attack against any of the alliance's members.

Earlier in the day, Germany's Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said that Nato allies may be ready to remove some hurdles in Ukraine's path to joining the alliance.

"There are increasing signs that everyone will be able to agree on this," he said in Brussels when asked about reports that the US is open to permitting Kyiv to forgo a formal candidacy process required of some other nations in the past.

"I would be open for this."

Quoting two US officials, news website Politico on Thursday reported that US President Joe Biden would welcome the removal of a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine’s entry into the military alliance.

The plan requires a candidate country to make reforms before its candidacy can be accepted.

Earlier this week, US permanent representative to Nato Julianne Smith said "one or two" countries, which she declined to name, were opposed to Ukraine joining Nato.

Ukraine will be offered an "enhanced political partnership" with Nato at the Vilnius summit, Ms Smith said.

Mr Stoltenberg separately said that defence ministers had reviewed their new regional plans – a first in decades.

Nato had previously seen no need for large-scale defence plans as it fought smaller wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and felt certain post-Soviet Russia no longer posed an existential threat.

"For the first time since the Cold War, we are fully connecting the planning for our collective defence with the planning for our forces, capabilities, and command and control, as well as an enhanced exercise programme for our troops. As a result, Nato will have over 300,000 troops on high readiness," according to Mr Stoltenberg.

Mr Stoltenberg said a final decision would be taken at the Vilnius summit.

He did not answer questions about whether Turkey had blocked the approval of the plans on Friday.

Reuters reported that Ankara objected to the wording of geographical locations, also with regard to Cyprus.

Updated: June 16, 2023, 6:00 PM