Ukraine pathway to membership an achievable goal, Lithuania says

Lithuania’s president said Monday that establishing a pathway for Ukraine’s NATO membership is an “achievable goal,” even as lesser security assurances have been touted by members of the military alliance ahead of a two-day summit this week.

Speaking to CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick in Vilnius, Gitanas Nauseda said various interim security assurances would be discussed when NATO members meet in the Lithuanian capital Tuesday, but he added that Ukraine ultimately had a rightful place in the military alliance.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Sunday that Washington was ready to provide security to Ukraine in a similar way as it does to Israel, offering “the weaponry they need, the capacity to defend themselves.” These comments were echoed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“As a temporary solution on the path toward full integration of in NATO, it might be considered. And it is a quite beneficial form of cooperation. But this is not a replacement for the full-fledged membership in NATO,” Nauseda said.

“I don’t think that this is the final goal for Ukraine. The final destination of Ukraine is to be in the family of NATO alliance,” he added.

Asked whether Ukraine would receive a pathway to membership at this week’s meeting, Nauseda said it was possible.

“I think it’s [an] achievable goal and this is a very important goal, too,” he said.

Kyiv applied for fast-track NATO membership in September 2022 in retaliation against Moscow after it said it had annexed four Ukrainian regions amid its full-scale invasion. NATO’s European expansion has long been considered a point of provocation by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

NATO drops key membership requirement for Ukraine

Earlier Monday, Ukraine’s foreign ninister, Dmytro Kuleba, said NATO had dropped the Membership Action Plan (MAP) requirement for Ukraine — one of the major sticking points in accession negotiations.

Nauseda said that would simplify and speed up negotiations, and added that Ukraine was likely to see further pledges of support from NATO members during the meeting.

“Ukraine needs [a] political signal but Ukraine needs also practical support, and I think this support will be granted,” he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda speak to the media prior to the 2023 NATO Summit on July 10, 2023 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images

It is not clear whether Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will attend this week’s summit, having previously said that he would do so only if Kyiv were given a “signal” on accession to the alliance.

However, Nauseda said he was hopeful and expectant that his counterpart would make an appearance.

“I think it’s very important to see him here in Vilnius, especially now,” he said, highlighting the rising security risks around the eastern flank. It follows the apparent relocation of Russia’s Wagner forces to Belarus following the mercenary group’s failed mutiny just over two weeks ago.

“The security situation in our region is deteriorating. It’s not improving, it’s even not stable,” Nauseda said.

“We see additional capabilities sent to Kaliningrad region. Belarus as a close ally of Russia is playing a more and more important role. So we have to be aware that we have to take the decisions to strengthen all of the eastern flank.”

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Another closely watched topic at the talks will be Sweden’s ongoing accession negotiations, which have faced pushback from Turkey over claims Stockholm has not done enough to crackdown on Kurdish groups that Ankara deems to be terrorists. Countries need unanimous approval from NATO’s existing 31 member states in order to join. 

Nauseda said he was hopeful that a resolution could be reached with Ankara and fellow dissenter Hungary, perhaps as soon as Monday evening.

“I am still expecting that there will be some pleasant news, maybe even this evening, regarding Sweden, too,” he said.


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