NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that in order for Ukraine to become a NATO member, it must prevail in its war with Russia and become more interoperable with the Western military alliance.
“NATO’s position is that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance, and that position has not changed. But we know that there are at least two things you need to address to make that possible. One is that we need to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
“The second thing we need to address is that when this war ends and Ukraine prevails, then, of course, we need to ensure that we have the highest level of interoperability, that Ukraine is able to move from Soviet-era standards, doctrines, ways of operating their armed forces,” he added.
Stoltenberg said the transition away from Soviet standards has already begun as Ukraine has been flooded with Western military equipment and has been receiving training from the US and other NATO countries. Stoltenberg said the transition will be a long-term process.
“This program is more long-term perspective. That is about, you know, building the institutions, helping with the transition, the interoperability, the standards, the doctrines – all of these things that we need to have in place, also to move towards membership,” he said.
One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main motives for invading Ukraine was its potential NATO membership and cooperation with the alliance following the 2014 US-backed coup that ousted Viktor Yanukovych. Before the invasion, Putin sought a guarantee from the US that Ukraine wouldn’t ever join NATO, but the Biden administration refused to engage on the issue.
At the same time, the US and NATO would not give Ukraine any concrete timeline on when it could become a member. “I requested them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five, just say it directly and clearly, or just say no,” Zelensky said in March 2022. “And the response was very clear, you’re not going to be a NATO member, but publicly, the doors will remain open.”
Ukraine’s neutrality was Russia’s key demand during peace talks that were held at the very beginning of the war. The Kremlin recently said that it now believes its goals can only be achieved by military means. Stoltenberg’s position on Ukraine’s membership and NATO’s long-term plans for the country likely solidifies that view in Moscow.