NATO Summit Was a Disappointment for Ukraine, But Progress Was Made

Western allies suggest Kyiv change criticising tactic in trying to win over members of the alliance

13 July 2023

Aleksandra Klitina

Future of Ukraine Fellow

While considerable progress was made at the NATO Summit with strong declarations of support, Kyiv not receiving an invitation to join the Alliance was largely seen as a disappointment for Ukrainian authorities, but leaders in Washington and London suggest criticising NATO’s help would not be a winning strategy.

Almost every Ukrainian followed the developments in Vilnius this week. However, the outcome of the NATO Summit’s first day was not what everyone had hoped for – Ukraine was not invited to become a member.

While there were many statements regarding Ukraine, its membership in the Alliance and the war against the Russian occupiers, NATO decided that Kyiv would receive an invitation “when the Alliance members agree, and the conditions are fulfilled.” At the same time, the MAP (Membership Action Plan) for Ukraine will be cancelled.

Kyiv had high expectations

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy participated in the NATO summit even though the preliminary result of the Alliance’s final communiqué on Ukraine disappointed him.

Moreover, the Ukrainian President didn’t hold back his dissatisfaction. Zelenskyy blasted the Alliance with strongly worded messages on social media on his way to Vilnius when it became known that the summit’s final document discussed only an invitation, not Ukraine’s membership, and more precisely, it was missing any timeframe and specifics.

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Zelenskyy said he was going to Vilnius because NATO deserved, “respect. But Ukraine also deserves respect,” he wrote on Telegram.

According to Zelenskyy, the Alliance was neither ready to invite Ukraine nor to make it a NATO member, referring to the proposal as “unprecedented and absurd”.

Disagreement over the final document

The debate over the text of the final statement continued right up to the start of the summit and even during it. The main opponents of Ukraine’s rapid integration into NATO were the United States and Germany.

Berlin and Washington’s primary shared concerns are to avoid any further escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War as well as a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.

US President Biden has a more complicated political landscape to navigate as the Republican opposition in control of the US House of Representatives, which is in charge of appropriations, is heavily divided on their support for Ukraine. Far-right members who are a significant and influential segment of the party are even trying to defund the Ukrainian war effort.

Regardless of this backdrop, the disappointment from the Ukrainian leadership was notable.

“We knew that we would not receive a specific invitation to NATO,” commented the president’s adviser, Mykhailo Podoliak.

“No one but Ukraine is ready to meet these challenges and take responsibility. We knew that NATO would only take the first steps: a long-term programme and abandoning the MAP,” Podoliak continued.

At the Vilnius summit, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba heard assurances from his allies that there will be no repeat of Bucharest, the 2008 NATO summit in Romania, where Ukraine and Georgia were promised to join the alliance but given no plans on how to achieve membership.

The Foreign Minister also noted that the wording – “to send Ukraine an invitation to join the Alliance when its members agree, and the conditions are met” – does not reflect the essence of the discussion on Ukraine’s future membership that is currently taking place between the allies.

Striking a more diplomatic tone, Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Oleksiy Danilov said, “We now have to do a lot of homework to transition to NATO standards fully.”

“NATO is not only a military alliance but also about democracy, human rights and freedom of speech. First, much work must be done,” Danilov agreed.

Western responses to Kyiv’s disappointment and a shift in tone

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there has never been such a strong message from NATO on the path and membership as was sounded for Ukraine.

However, he said, a candidate for membership must have good governance and strong defence institutions. And despite Ukraine’s heroic stand against Russia, it should wait until the war is over, as NATO countries are not ready to fight Russia.

“We reaffirm that Ukraine will become a member. We actually have agreed on concrete tools, political tools, practical tools to help Ukraine move towards membership. And then of course, everyone understands that a final decision on this cannot be taken before there is some kind of end to this war.”

Asked about Zelenskyy’s criticism, Stoltenberg responded, “There has never been a stronger message from NATO at any time, both when it comes to the political message of the path forward for membership and the concrete support from NATO allies.”

Other Western leaders echoed this sentiment on the second day of the conference, hoping to mollify tensions and return a more hopeful spirit to the NATO Summit.

“If I sound optimistic, it’s because I am,” President Biden told reporters at Vilnius University.

The Guardian reported that UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace suggested Ukraine strike a more grateful tone for NATO’s support in what he described as friendly advice for winning approval from the wider political spectrum.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy assured that Ukraine appreciates the recognition that it does not need an Alliance Membership Action Plan and called it a good result of the current summit.

“We really appreciate this recognition that the MAP is not needed,” Zelenskyy said during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

He also emphasised that the results of the current summit “are good, but if there had been an invitation, they would have been perfect.”

Zelenskyy assured that on the sidelines of the NATO summit, he felt such confidence in Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance that he had probably never heard before but that this would happen when the “conditions are right”. The Ukrainian president believes that these conditions are when the war with Russia ends.

The Summit concluded with Biden repeating the US’s commitment to Ukraine and Zelenskyy telling reporters that he doesn’t doubt either Berlin or Washington’s loyalty.

Additionally, under the aegis of the G7, leaders made a notable declaration of support for Ukraine’s long-term security on Wednesday.

The G7 countries pledged to ensure Ukraine’s security in the long term and to immediately respond to possible aggression by Russia if it happens in the future after the end of the current war.

The G7 leaders reaffirm their commitment to ensuring the fulfilment of the strategic goal of a free, independent, democratic and sovereign Ukraine within internationally recognised borders, capable of defending itself and preventing future aggression.

The declaration also contains several commitments that Ukraine has made and should continue to strive for. In particular, Kyiv must continue sweeping reforms in various areas, including the fight against corruption, and improve law enforcement, courts, and corporate and public administration.

Ukraine must also continue on the path of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and freedom of expression. It includes ongoing defence reforms, army modernisation, and strengthening civilian control over the armed forces.

Takeaways from the NATO Summit vis-a-vis Ukraine

Multi-year assistance programme

North Atlantic Alliance members have agreed on a package of three elements to bring Ukraine closer to NATO.

It includes a new multi-year military assistance programme of $500 million a year that will facilitate the transition of Ukraine’s armed forces from Soviet to NATO standards and help rebuild Ukraine’s security and defence sector, covering critical needs such as fuel, demining equipment, and medical supplies.

Ukraine-NATO Council

The Alliance members also agreed to establish a new NATO-Ukraine Council, an expanded format for Ukraine’s cooperation with the Alliance.

The first meeting was held in Vilnius on Wednesday, 12 July, with the participation of President Zelenskyy. During the meeting, the participants should agree on steps for Ukraine’s accession to the Alliance.

Cancellation of MAP for Ukraine

Members of the North Atlantic Alliance also confirmed that Ukraine would become a member of NATO and agreed to cancel the requirement of the Membership Action Plan.

“We reaffirm the commitment made at the 2008 Bucharest summit that Ukraine will become a member of NATO, and today we recognize that Ukraine’s path to full Euro-Atlantic integration has gone beyond the need for a Membership Action Plan,” the document states.

Help from Germany and France: long-range Scalp/Storm Shadow missiles

Germany did announce a 700 million euro military aid package for Ukraine at the NATO summit. It includes several Patriot installations, other MANPADS, additional Leopard-1 tanks, Marder BMPs, 20,000 artillery and Leopar tank shells, and demining equipment.



Published as part of our Future of Ukraine Fellowship programme. Learn more about it here and consider contributing.

Featured image is from NATO and available here.

Aleksandra Klitina

Future of Ukraine Fellow

Aleksandra Klitina is a Future of Ukraine Fellow as well as a Senior Correspondent for Kyiv Post, with over a decade of experience in private and public institutions, including serving as a former Deputy Minister in Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure. She has a background in advocating infrastructure and public administration reforms and has worked on EU projects in Ukraine.

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