UK foreign secretary: Focus on war now, Ukraine’s NATO bid later

UK foreign secretary: Focus on war now, Ukraine’s NATO bid later
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 05 April 2023 17:06

Speaking to POLITICO, James Cleverly acknowledged NATO’s pledge to admit Ukraine, but said the current priority should be on the war.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly cautioned on Wednesday that now is not the time for a concrete conversation on Ukraine’s NATO bid, as allies debate how to address Kyiv’s aspirations to join the military alliance.

In an interview with POLITICO, Cleverly acknowledged NATO’s commitment — made during a 2008 summit in Bucharest — that Ukraine will ultimately join the alliance. But echoing a view popular in western capitals, he argued that this is a discussion for a later stage.

“Obviously, there is long-standing commitments to providing Ukraine with a path to NATO membership,” he said following a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. But, the foreign secretary added, “the priority of course, at the moment, is about their self-defense in the here and now.”

Cleverly’s remarks come as Ukrainian officials have reiterated their calls in recent days for the country to move closer to NATO, eliciting mixed reactions from alliance leaders.

During a visit to Poland on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the thorny debate with his characteristic bluntness.

“I would like to tell all our partners, who are constantly looking for compromises on Ukraine’s path to NATO, that our country will be uncompromising on this issue,” the Ukrainian leader said.

The question was also top of mind as foreign ministers met in Brussels this week. Cleverly said Ukraine’s place in Europe’s security architecture is a matter to be addressed during a reconstruction phase.

“As part of that reconstruction, the Ukrainians and of course everybody else will want to see a credible way of ensuring that the brutality that they’re currently experiencing isn’t replicated in the future,” Cleverly said.

“Exactly how that happens” he added, “that is a conversation that needs to still be had.”

The U.K. wants to support Ukraine “ultimately on that path to NATO membership,” Cleverly stressed, “but I think the sequencing is important — and today’s work is helping them defend themselves.”

NATO allies are currently split on how to tackle Ukraine’s NATO dreams. Capitals such as London and Washington want a strong focus on immediate, practical assistance to Kyiv and to leave bigger political questions for later. A number of allies on the eastern flank, however, want to bring Ukraine closer to the alliance now — an attempt to publicly signal that Ukraine will definitely join the alliance once hostilities end.

The alliance needs to go beyond rhetoric, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told POLITICO during the ministers’ meeting.

Besides “practical deliverables,” he said, NATO needs “to define a clear roadmap as a path of Ukraine to NATO.” Reinsalu wants to see a plan that could be reviewed at the alliance’s summit in 2024.

The idea, the Estonian politician said, is that if the war ends, the alliance will “have done our homework, and we can then pass the decision to launch an official invitation to Ukraine to become a full member.”

But for now, momentum appears to be on the side of the more cautious, western capitals, which are focused more on helping Ukraine upgrade its military and defense sector to meet NATO standards — but without making concrete political pledges of imminent accession.

“NATO’s position is that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday.

But to make that possible, he said, “we need to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation.”

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