Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared his country would be submitting an "accelerated" bid to join NATO on Friday. He made the announcement shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed documents to formally annexing four regions of Ukraine. Zelensky said the alliance should welcome Kiev, as Ukraine is already a de facto member.
In his speech, Zelensky argued Ukraine is already a "de facto" member of NATO. "De facto, we have already proven compatibility with alliance standards. We trust each other, we help each other, and we protect each other," he said.
The Kremlin views Ukrainian membership in NATO as an existential threat to Russia. A Myriad of analysts point to Kiev’s growing ties with Brussels and Washington as the catalyst for Putin’s decision to order the invasion of Ukraine.
"We are taking our decisive step by signing Ukraine’s application for accelerated accession to NATO," Zelensky said. It is not clear what fast-track process for membership Kiev plans to apply for.
When asked about Zelensky’s remarks at a press conference on Friday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, "NATO’s door remains open." However, he stopped short of suggesting Kiev will be admitted into the alliance any time soon and stressed, "NATO is not a party to" the war in Ukraine.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan echoed Stoltenberg saying NATO membership for Kiev is not a topic for discussion. According to Politico’s Alex Ward, Sullivan said Ukraine’s NATO status should be taken up “at a different time."
NATO members have refused to fight Russia directly and instead provided tens of billions in weapons supporting Kiev’s war effort. The Kremlin says such Western support for Ukraine amounts to a declaration of war.
Stoltenberg denounced Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s territory. The NATO chief said, “These lands are Ukraine. Crimea is Ukraine." Stoltenberg said redrawing Russia’s borders was the “most serious escalation since the start of the war.” Last week, he said NATO would step up its support for Ukraine in response to the Russian referendum and annexation.
Additionally, Zelensky rejected any talks with Russia so long as Putin is the leader. “We are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” he said.