NATO members agree that Ukraine will eventually join the North Atlantic alliance but the current priority is to ensure it prevails as a “sovereign, independent nation” and can beat back a Russian invasion, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday in Norway.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo, Mr. Stoltenberg stressed that only members of the alliance — not the Kremlin — will decide whether Kyiv joins NATO.
“It’s not for Moscow to have a veto against NATO enlargement,” he said.
Ukraine is rapidly moving from the Soviet standards in military equipment and doctrine to the NATO standards, a crucial development before it will be ready to join NATO, Mr. Stoltenberg said.
“When allies now start to, for instance, train them to use fourth-generation NATO standard aircraft, that helps them to actually be able to operate modern aircraft,” he said. “But, it also helps them to come close to NATO, to NATO doctrines and interoperability.”
Bringing Ukraine into NATO is part of a process that began when President George W. Bush in 2008 pushed through a pledge that both Ukraine and Georgia would one day be eligible for membership. Kyiv’s campaign got a boost in early 2014 when Russia invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Mr. Stoltenberg said Ukraine is “much closer” to NATO now than just a few years ago.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pushed for Ukraine to be part of NATO since the start of Russia’s invasion, while Russian President Vladimir Putin cites NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe and the possible membership of Ukraine as a prime justification for his decision to invade in February 2022. Kyiv sees membership in the alliance as a cornerstone of its long-term defense and security.
NATO will agree to a long-term plan and multiyear commitment to support Kyiv even after the Russian invaders leave Ukraine. The alliance needs to ensure that Ukraine has the capabilities and the strength to defend itself, Mr. Stoltenberg said.
“There is still a long way to go to ensure that everything they do is totally interoperable with NATO,” he said.
Russian officials accused Kyiv of being behind a drone strike in Moscow on Tuesday that damaged at least three apartment buildings. Ukrainian government officials denied any responsibility for the attacks. While the U.S. and other NATO leaders say they do not seek a direct conflict with Moscow, Mr. Stoltenberg declined to criticize Ukraine for the drone tactic.
“Ukraine has the right to defend itself. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “The right to have self-defense is enshrined in the U.N. charter. There is no doubt this is a war of aggression by President Putin and Moscow against Ukraine.”
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