Kiev has been pushing for Ukraine to join the military alliance for months. But whether the country would eventually join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) depended on its Western partners, the Ukrainian leader said in his daily video address on Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke by telephone with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday, after NATO member states extended Stoltenberg’s term until 1 October 2024. Stoltenberg has been in office since 2014. His term was last extended until September 2023 in March 2022, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NATO’s 31 member states are currently haggling over the precise wording of a final summit communiqué on Ukraine’s potential membership. Allied leaders will also try to agree on a new defence spending target.

NATO-Ukraine Council: a possible compromise?

Ahead of the NATO summit, Eastern European countries are pushing to ensure a clear timetable for Ukraine’s membership, while the US and Germany lead the reluctant side and London is engaged in mediation. The establishment of the NATO-Ukraine Council is considered a compromise in order to strengthen ties in view of a future membership to the North Atlantic alliance.

The Council would allow Ukraine to participate much more closely in the work of NATO allies and to be involved in its development. It would mean an initial political integration, accompanying the multi-year military assistance plan which aims to render the Ukrainian armed forces “fully interoperable” with NATO forces.

A first discussion has been held at an Informal meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, where Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani supported the idea of setting up a NATO-Ukraine Council. “Today we have noted everyone’s commitment to continue to support Ukraine with great strength, and we have talked about its possible future membership of the Atlantic Alliance,” he said. “For Italy, an important step before setting a date for membership is the establishment of the NATO-Ukraine Council, so that we can strengthen cooperation and thus make Ukraine feel part of a strategy,” Tajani added.

More recently, during a symbolic visit to Kiev on 1 July – the starting day of Spain’s six-month presidency of the EU – Spanish President Pedro Sánchez pledged Spain’s support for Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and called for the creation of a NATO-Ukraine Council to “enhance Kiev’s political participation” in the military alliance.

Sanchez announced the sending of more armoured vehicles and additional financial aid to revive the Ukrainian economy, and the two leaders signed a joint declaration in which Spain said it supported “the strengthening of the NATO alliance with Ukraine.”

However, the Spanish government has not clarified whether it is in favour of opening the door for Ukraine to join NATO. On 21 June, José Manuel Albares, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, refused to state Spain’s position, saying that the issue would be discussed with other member states at next week’s summit in Vilnius.

Fortifying NATO’s eastern flank

Zelensky arrived in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Thursday for a one-day visit. He was received by Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov and Deputy Prime Minister Mariya Gabriel, and held talks with political group leaders in the Bulgarian parliament.

On the same day, the Bulgarian National Assembly adopted a declaration in support of Ukraine’s membership in NATO once the war was over. Parliament declares that the most direct and desirable way to restore peace in Ukraine is the full and immediate voluntary withdrawal of Russian forces from the internationally recognised national territory of all sovereign states concerned.

During the visit, a joint declaration on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration and a memorandum on energy cooperation were signed.

“I want to thank you, Bulgaria, for the support and protection of our people,” Zelensky said at a news conference referring to key military supplies Sofia had been providing to Kiev since the first days of the war.

The new pro-Western government in Bulgaria has promised further support to Ukraine in its battle to force Russian invaders out of the country. Recently, however, President Radev rejected Bulgaria’s participation in a joint European Union initiative to supply ammunition to Ukraine.

At the EU summit in Brussels last week, Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob had said that a lasting peace in Ukraine was a precondition for starting negotiations on the country’s NATO membership. “There is a variety of views and formulas on Ukraine’s NATO membership. I think time will tell if any of the existing formulas are acceptable,” Golob stated. There was no doubt that Ukraine was on the road to the Euro-Atlantic alliance, but the length of the journey would depend on various factors, the prime minister added.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis recalled that at the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, the allies decided that Ukraine and Georgia would become NATO members in the future. Over time, Romania’s position on NATO enlargement has been reiterated by Iohannis, who has stressed that “the Alliance needs a strong, long-term posture, a truly advanced defence capable of responding to all threats.”

“Given our strategic position, Romania is particularly interested in further strengthening the Eastern flank through a coherent and unified approach. This means ensuring the necessary forces, structures, capabilities and equipment, as well as adequate command and control arrangements,” the Romanian President concluded.

Vilnius prepares to receive NATO allies

NATO is nearing a consensus on how to handle Ukraine’s membership bid at its upcoming summit and wants to show it is going “beyond” an earlier promise to Kiev, US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith said. The US envoy stated she expected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to attend next week’s meeting, and that his presence would send a “powerful” message to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

NATO diplomats say the US is reluctant to go beyond a 2008 pledge made in Bucharest, which promised Ukraine membership but set no timetable. US President Joe Biden will be in Europe next week for a three-nation tour, including the NATO summit in Vilnius, focused on bolstering the international coalition backing Ukraine in its counter-offensive against Russia.

The NATO summit comes as the Western military alliance seeks to admit Sweden, whose membership bid has been blocked by Turkey and Hungary, and as Ukraine intensifies its campaign to join amid Russia’s invasion.

Zelensky has described the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius as crucial for the future security of Europe. He has said he wanted his country to receive an invitation at the Vilnius summit to join NATO once the war with Moscow is over.

The Spanish military is moving an air defence system stationed in Latvia to neighbouring Lithuania to help protect the NATO summit being held there next week, the Spanish embassy announced in Vilnius on Monday. Germany has transferred Patriot air defence units to Lithuania to help protect the summit.

Allied support for Ukraine will be one of the main items on the agenda at the NATO summit in Vilnius on 11-12 July.

This article is published weekly. The content is based on news by agencies participating in the enr.