Nato chief says Ukraine will join 'when allies agree and conditions are met' - after Zelenskyy blasts 'absurd' delay

11 July 2023, 16:47 | Updated: 11 July 2023, 19:42

Nato leaders begin crunch summit without Ukrainian leader Vlodymyr Zelenskyy
Nato leaders begin crunch summit without Ukrainian leader Vlodymyr Zelenskyy. Picture: Getty/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Ukraine will join Nato when "allies agree and conditions are met", the military alliance's secretary general has said.

Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at the Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, said members are admitted based on conditions, not timelines.

"If you look at all the membership processes they are not based on timelines, they are conditions-based as it has always been," he adds.

It comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hit out at Nato ahead of the summit, blasting allies for failing to set a firm timeline for his country to join the alliance.

His outburst came hours after Nato announced a breakthrough that would allow it to admit Sweden as its 32nd member, the second new arrival since Russia began its invasion of its neighbour last year.

Mr Zelenskyy said not having a timeframe for Ukraine to join the alliance is both “unprecedented and absurd.”

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According to former US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Nato is wasting time by considering Ukraine's membership while it is at war.

Speaking to LBC's Andrew Marr, Mr Bolton said: "This is making the same mistake Nato made in 2008. In April of that year, George W. Bush proposed bringing Ukraine and Georgia into fast-track at the Bucharest summit.

“Germany and France objected. Nato ended up with a statement saying, in effect, that Ukraine and Georgia would ultimately become Nato members.

“That created a grey zone between Nato’s border and Russia’s border that Russia exploited, invading Georgia four months later and then getting around to Ukraine in 2014. We’re about the make the same mistake again.

“I think Biden has compounded it by saying things like ‘Ukraine’s not ready to join Nato’.

“There’s one issue that is dispositive here and suggests to me we should have said to Ukraine months ago: ‘don’t bring this up’.

"It’s a policy that’s based on the Treaty of Washington. Article 5 says an attack on one shall be deemed an attack on all. Nato has never admitted to membership a country at war because that would mean, inevitably, that the rest of the alliance is at war.

“I think this whole thing is a massive waste of time and a signal to Russia of disunity in the alliance.”

He continued: “This is a conclusion that Finland and Sweden reached, giving up 75 year of neutrality that Germany and France couldn’t understand back in 2008 -  that the only secure defence against Russian military attack is to behind behind a Nato border.

“If the Europeans had agreed to this when Bush first proposed it, I don’t think we’d be at war now. But now that we are, Ukraine has to understand that Nato membership is simply not possible because you wouldn’t get 31 - soon to be 32 - other members to agree to it.

“It is a mistake as I say, however, for Joe Biden or others to talk about lack of democracy, corruption and 58 other things the Ukrainians need to do.”

Mr Bolton added that when a number of Eastern and central European nations were admitted after the Berlin Wall’s collapse, they were not “paradigms” of transparency and democracy. “That’s not the issue,” he said.

“This just complicates things at a time of real crisis in Ukraine."

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He said: “It’s unprecedented and absurd when timeframe is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine's membership.”

He added on Twitter: "It seems there is no readiness neither to invite Ukraine to Nato nor to make it a member of the alliance."

It comes as Mr Stoltenberg revealed Ukraine's membership pathway will be changed from a two-step process to a one-step process, making it easier for them to join.

A multi-year assistance programme will also be launched to help Ukraine reach Nato standards.

This represents a "strong package for Ukraine and a clear path towards its membership in Nato", Mr Stoltenberg added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Picture: Alamy
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy places flowers on Snake Island commemorating the 500th day of the Russian invasion
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy places flowers on Snake Island commemorating the 500th day of the Russian invasion. Picture: Alamy

Nato agreed in 2008 that Ukraine will become a member but did not say how and when it would happen.

Rishi Sunak vowed that Britain is “in it for the long haul.”

Flying out to the summit, Mr Sunak said: “We are with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Mr Stoltenburg added: "Allies agree when a war is going on that's not the time for making Ukraine a full member of the alliance."

He told reporters: “What Putin needs to understand is there is no point in waiting out the West, and not just the West but the alliance that has formed to support Ukraine.

"Everyone is in it for the long haul and any thought he had that this would be over quickly has already been proved to be false.”

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg promised at the start of the summit that Ukraine would get a “positive and strong message” on its path to membership of the alliance, as well as more military aid.

Zelenskyy and his team have been pressing Nato for a clear path for Ukraine to join once the war is over.

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He said lingering uncertainty over Ukraine's Nato membership would mean "a window of opportunity is being left to bargain (over) Ukraine's membership in Nato in negotiations with Russia.

"And for Russia, this means motivation to continue its terror," he said.

Indicating that he would attend the summit, he said: "Uncertainty is weakness. And I will openly discuss this at the summit."

Moscow has said it was following the Nato summit closely and that it would take "measures to protect Russia's own security.”