Karl Altau / JBANC
The NATO Summit will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, from July 11 to 12, 2023. Depending on Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive against Russian occupiers, we will soon find out the possible path for Ukraine’s further integration with the West.
Ukraine has already been offered an EU Membership plan. Its future NATO direction will be clarified during the NATO Summit.
The path to EU membership is moving forward. On 28 February 28, 2022, four days after the start of Russia’s massive new invasion, Ukraine officially submitted a letter of application for membership. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy requested immediate admission to the European Union under a special procedure, which was immediately supported by eight EU countries, including the three Baltic countries. The European Parliament voted to advance Ukraine’s membership following a 637-13 vote in favor, with 26 abstentions. On June 23 last year, the European Council granted Ukraine the status of a candidate for accession to the EU. It’s a clear case that Ukraine can and will join the EU once the war ends.
But what about NATO membership? Ukraine has proven itself to be a reliable partner for three decades as it has been cooperating with NATO since the early 1990s through the Partnership for Peace program and participating in NATO-led operations and joint military exercises. Ukraine applied to receive a Membership Action Plan in 2008, but membership was delayed later that year at the Bucharest NATO Summit and MAPs were put on hold for both Ukraine and Georgia. NATO accession became a priority for Ukraine after the initial Russian invasion in 2014, and following the renewed Russian attack last year, Ukraine formally submitted its application to become a NATO member on September 30, 2022.
On the eve of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, there is an increasingly fervent discussion of what decisions regarding Ukraine can be expected in Vilnius to move the ball forward.
The Biden administration has been deliberate, steady, and calculating in its support for Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, which is coupled with much bipartisan support in the United States Congress for the goal of Ukrainian membership. The question is no longer if or when, but how soon?
Certainly, one major factor is how successfully Ukraine drives Russia out of the occupied territories, including Crimea. Other partners, including the Baltics and Poland, have been pushing forward more actively for a speedier accession for Ukraine, echoing the sentiments of Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian Minister of Defense. Reznikov spoke during a May 5 forum hosted in Washington, DC. The think tank summarized:
“The Vilnius summit must deliver a concrete path for Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance. But that is not all. Security guarantees and necessary military defense equipment are Ukraine’s top requests from NATO, and Reznikov is hoping NATO leaders will address these needs at the summit.”
Estonia, of course, has been one of the biggest supporters and material contributors to Ukraine’s fight, at least on a per capita basis. The fact that Estonia will be raising its defense spending to three percent of its GDP by next year points to the country’s seriousness in doing what it can to protect itself. Estonian president Alar Karis recently urged other NATO allies to strive to that level, and certainly above the current two percent threshold, which only nine NATO members reach, which again includes Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Estonian parliament’s (Riigikogu) Foreign Affairs Committee, said following a June 11 gathering with the Central and East European Coalition in Washington, DC:
“The outcome of the Ukrainian independence war will determine the future of all of Europe. Therefore, it is important that Ukraine, which wins this war
of independence, immediately receives such security guarantees that would exclude a new Russian attack. Achieving lasting peace and stability in Europe is only possible through Ukraine’s victory and its membership invitation to NATO. Therefore, it is important that our allies in the U.S. understand what is at stake.”
In meetings with members of the U.S. Congress during the week of June 13, Mihkelson added that “we focused on the Vilnius NATO summit and the importance of giving Ukraine a clear perspective on joining NATO.”
Ukraine has sacrificed much but has also shown what a free nation is capable of in defending not only its own freedom but the security interests of like-minded states. This message was amplified during the Ukrainian Days advocacy event on Capitol Hill on June 14-15, which was again supported by the Joint Baltic American National Committee.
The only NATO road is a path forward for Ukraine, and away from Russia’s destructive clutches. The West cannot miss this opportunity to act decisively on behalf of a good partner versus an evil destroyer and disrupter. If not at Vilnius next month, then certainly at the 75th anniversary NATO Summit in Washington, DC in April 2024 for sure.
Please also consider participating in JBANC’s Baltic Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, happening July 20-21, 2023. More information and registration here: https://jbanc.org/2023/06/13/baltic-advocacy-days/