13th Apr 2024

Ukraine 'closer than ever' to joining Nato, despite war

  • Nato defence ministers met in Brussels on Thursday (Photo:
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When the political timing is right, Ukraine will go into Nato as swiftly as Finland and Sweden are doing, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Thursday (15 February).

"We are moving Ukraine closer to membership so that when we take the decision they can enter very quickly, as we saw with Sweden and Finland," Stoltenberg said.

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"An invitation will be made when all allies agree and conditions are met. We are now moving closer to that point," he added.

"Ukraine is closer to Nato membership than ever before," he said.

The two Nordic states trained alongside Nato for decades before applying to join in May 2022 in reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Finland became a member in April last year — the fastest accession process in the Western alliance's history.

Sweden is expected to join in spring, when the Hungarian parliament meets again — with Hungary the last of 31 allies to still hold a ratification vote.

Stoltenberg explained that the Ukraine war had brought Nato and Ukrainian forces closer than ever in terms of "interoperability", amid massive transfers of high-tech Western weapons systems to Ukraine, including F16 fighter jets.

He also announced the creation of a new Nato-Ukraine military academy in Bydgoszcz, northern Poland.

One flashy opportunity for Nato to invite Ukraine would be at its 75th anniversary summit in Washington in July.

But there is no sign on the battlefield that Ukraine will reconquer the territories in south-east Ukraine and Crimea annexed by Russia since 2014.

And Nato's Article V on mutual defence would pose questions on whether Ukraine's Nato entry in time of war would lead to a Nato-Russia clash.

Stoltenberg spoke after meeting Nato defence ministers and amid fears that if Russian president Vladimir Putin won in Ukraine, then he might threaten a Nato country, such as Poland or one of the Baltic states, a few years later.

Stoltenberg also spoke after US intelligence came to light that Russia was developing a nuclear-capable space weapon.

"In Nato, we're constantly exchanging intelligence between Nato allies and always monitoring all potential threats from all domains," Stoltenberg said, but declined to comment on the Russian space-weapon reports.

Speaking more broadly, he added: "We do not see any imminent military threat against the alliance".

"Nato continues to ensure there's no room for miscalculation in Moscow about our readiness to protect all allies," he said.

Some 90,000 Nato soldiers were currently holding a drill, called Steadfast Defender, "testing our ability to swiftly move forces across the alliance to defend our eastern flank," he also said.

Meanwhile, the run-up to the Washington Nato summit coincides with the run-up to US elections in November — posing other challenges for the Western alliance.

Republican US candidate Donald Trump is making headlines for his re-election campaign by saying Russia should feel free to attack Nato states which don't spend enough on their own defence.

The US House of Representatives is also still to vote on a $95bn aid package for Ukraine, raising concern in Kyiv on whether Western war-fatigue is setting in after two years of conflict.

But Stoltenberg dismissed Trump's rhetoric and said he expected the US to shortly approve the financial aid.

"I expect the US to be a staunch ally", he said.

This was because a strong Nato and a Ukrainian victory was just as important for US security as it was for Europe's, Stoltenberg said.

And there was "broad bipartisan support" for the Ukraine aid in Washington, despite the delays and Trump's statements, he added.

If Putin won in Ukraine it would embolden other authoritarian leaders, such as Chinese president Xi Jinping, who has threatened to start a war with Taiwan on America's Pacific Ocean flank, Stoltenberg said.

"What happens in Ukraine today can happen in Taiwan tomorrow, so this matters for our security and it matters for US security," he said.


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