The NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, was notable for the unexpected agreement by Turkey to support Sweden’s membership. Liberty Nation reported that the process was not without drama as Turkey made some last-minute demands. The country wanted more consideration for its decades-long desire to become a member of the European Union (EU), and the United States threw in 40 F-16 fighter jets, long on Turkey’s shopping list, as a sweetener. Once the issue of Sweden’s membership was resolved for the moment (President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still must get Turkish parliament approval), the problem of Ukraine was next up.
“The summit looks set to be dominated by how NATO will define its future relationship with Ukraine, amid repeated calls by President Volodymyr Zelensky to receive an invitation into the alliance at Vilnius,” said Sabine Siebold writing for Reuters. The NATO delegates did discuss continuing military aid, but there was no membership invitation.
NATO Summit a Disappointment for Kyiv
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made clear before the summit began that a proffer to Ukraine would not be forthcoming. The sticking point is Article 1 of the NATO Charter and the 1949 Washington Treaty. To be considered for membership, countries cannot be in ongoing international conflicts. Picking up this theme in a recent CNN interview, President Joe Biden explained, albeit inartfully:
“I don’t think there is unanimity in NATO about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the NATO family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war. For example, if you did that, then, you know – and I mean what I say – we’re determined to commit every inch of territory that is NATO territory. It’s a commitment that we’ve all made no matter what. If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case.”
Though Zelensky did meet delegates to discuss assistance to the Kyiv government, the embattled leader put his frustration on full display. He not only understood imminent membership was off the table but also saw no timeline. Zelensky tweeted:
“It’s unprecedented and absurd when time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership. While at the same time vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine … This means that a window of opportunity is being left to bargain Ukraine’s membership in NATO in negotiations with Russia. And for Russia, this means motivation to continue its terror.”
“Zelensky and Stoltenberg spoke shortly before a meeting of a new NATO-Ukraine Council, which Stoltenberg described as an important step toward integrating Ukraine into the Western alliance while stopping short of actual membership,” Steven Nelson reported for the New York Post. That may be the best Zelensky can get – but he is snagged in a catch-22. To defeat the Russian invaders, NATO membership would be invaluable as a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he can’t win, and the full weight of the NATO military capability could be brought to bear to ensure Russia’s defeat. Still, Ukraine can’t have membership as long as it’s at war with Russia.
Biden Talks With Zelensky
Kyiv believes, and rightly so, that as the war drags on, a negotiated settlement will be forced on the Zelensky government that falls far short of winning back its lost territory. Russia understands this dynamic as well. Protracted fighting is in Putin’s best interest; the piecemeal doling out by the United States and the rest of NATO of the critical longer-range military firepower is playing to his advantage. Biden discussed with Zelensky the extended-range Army Tactical Missile System, which would allow the Ukrainian soldiers to deliver devastating artillery fire on Russian lines from further distances, US national security advisor Jake Sullivan said in an interview on Good Morning America.
It was also reported that it won’t be until sometime in August when Ukrainian pilots can begin training on F-16 fighters, despite that decision being made two months ago and Ukraine’s request for F-16s a year ago. It’s time for Biden to stop discussing and start doing.
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