Ukraine's Foreign Minister has said that Nato members are poised to create a pathway for his country to join, with a fully fledged security alliance in a package of support that stops short of immediate membership.
Ukraine's bid to join Nato dates back to the Bucharest summit of 2008 when it was accepted as a candidate but not granted a Membership Action Plan (Map). Many supporters of Kyiv say Tuesday's summit in Vilnius must clear the “mistakes” of that earlier agreement.
Without timelines and a way to resolve the problems involving Ukraine's broken territorial integrity, the on-off debate over a Map has not given Kyiv a working framework for membership. So Kyiv is seeking a different route into the 31-member group.
“Following intensive talks, Nato allies have reached consensus on removing Map from Ukraine's path to membership,” Dmytro Kuleba, the Foreign Minister, tweeted on Monday. “I welcome this long-awaited decision that shortens our path to Nato. It is also the best moment to offer clarity on the invitation to Ukraine to become member.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned the alliance that a decision to admit Ukraine, where Russia launched a war in Feb 2024 and has already annexed Crimea, would trigger a response with consequences beyond the conflict.
“You know the absolutely clear and consistent position of the Russian Federation that Ukraine's membership in Nato will have very, very negative consequences for the security architecture, the already half-destroyed security architecture in Europe,” he said on Monday.
“And it will be an absolute danger, a threat to our country, which will require from us a sufficiently clear and firm reaction.”
Firm backers of Ukraine have called for a Nato charter guaranteeing support for Ukraine while President Joe Biden has said his concerns for the unity of the alliance “family” means this is not the time for it to join. Major nations are believed to be negotiating the wording of the offer even as the summit participants gather in the Baltic nation.
Mr Sunak told Mr Biden that he wants to go far as possible to ensure Ukraine's “rightful place” is within alliance in talks in London on Monday morning.
“We want to work with the US and our allies on the pathway for Ukraine to join,” a Downing St spokesman said.
When Russia launched the war in Ukraine last year, it had spent months demanding “security guarantees” from the western alliance. One of the main points was that its former Soviet neighbour would never be allowed to join Nato.
That push failed when the United States and others dismissed the demand as a “non-starter”.
German officials said on Monday that it preferred the option of a bilateral security guarantee scheme for Ukraine, confirming it was not the right time for an invitation for Kyiv to join the defence alliance.
The Bucharest summit that said Ukraine could eventually join the alliance was upstaged in the years following the meeting especially when Moscow then illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato Secretary General, declared Ukraine's “rightful place” was in Nato while also insisting it would not be able to join during the war with Russia, whose forces now occupy more of Ukraine's east and south.
Commentators have warned there is an unstated reluctance among some Nato members to wrench Ukraine out of Moscow's orbit. “Russia is still seen in a number of western capitals as historically dominant in Eastern Europe and still entitled – a view closer to the 19th [century] spheres of influence mindset than to post-Cold War triumphant liberalism,” wrote Andrew Mitcha, dean of the George C Marshall Centre's security studies. “And for many Ukraine is 'out there', far away from home.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has acknowledged the war is an impediment, saying his calls for Ukraine to receive a “political invitation” to Nato could be compromise at the summit.
Under the Map process followed by other former communist countries in eastern Europe, candidates have to prove they meet political, economic and military criteria and are able to contribute militarily to Nato operations.
Finland and Sweden, formerly neutral states which worked closely with Nato, were invited to join the alliance directly. Ukraine is not the only nation waiting to join Nato. Sweden's accession has been held up by Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signalled he will not relent in Vilnius. In a call with President Biden, he said the Europeans must revive Turkey's bid to join the EU first. “If they do that we will ratify Sweden’s membership to Nato as we approved Finland’s,” he said.