On Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made his first visit to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion last year and declared that Kyiv’s “rightful place” is as a member of the Western military alliance.
“Ukraine’s rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family. Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO. And over time, our support will help to make this possible,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ukraine was first promised NATO membership in 2008 despite a warning from then-US Ambassador to Russia William Burns, who now serves as the CIA director, that Moscow views Ukrainian NATO membership as “the brightest of all red lines.”
NATO significantly stepped up its support for Ukraine following the 2014 US-backed coup in Kyiv that ousted Viktor Yanukovych. “Over the years, NATO Allies have provided training for tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers,” Stoltenberg said in Kyiv.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Stoltenberg has repeatedly pledged Ukraine would eventually become a member, but Kyiv has never been given a timeline. Some NATO members want to give clearer statements to Ukraine on its potential membership at a summit that will be held in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius this July, but the US is reportedly pushing back against the plan.
Zelensky has been invited to the Vilnius summit, and Stoltenberg said he expects discussion about stronger NATO support for Kyiv. “I also recognize that President Zelensky will raise the issue of membership, of security guarantees, and this will be high on the agenda of the meeting,” he said. Whatever happens at the summit, NATO has long-term plans for Kyiv either way.
Stoltenberg said he discussed a “multi-year support initiative” with Zelensky to make Ukraine’s armed forces more interoperable with NATO. “It is a testament to NATO’s long-term commitment to Ukraine. NATO stands with you today, tomorrow, and for as long as it takes,” Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief’s visit to Ukraine comes as there’s no end in sight to the war. Pentagon documents that were allegedly leaked by Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira revealed the US doesn’t think peace talks will happen this year and that Ukraine can’t regain any significant territory in a planned counteroffensive.
Stoltenberg acknowledged that he doesn’t know how long the war will last. “We do not know when this war will end. But we know that Russian aggression is a toxic pattern that must be stopped,” he said.
NATO’s plans for Ukraine will prolong the war as the alliance’s support for the country was one of Moscow’s main motives for invading. Before launching its attack on Ukraine, Russia sought a guarantee from the US that Kyiv wouldn’t ever join NATO, but the Biden administration refused to engage on the issue.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reaffirmed on Thursday that preventing Ukrainian NATO membership is one of Moscow’s war goals. “Of course, because, otherwise, this will pose a serious, significant threat for our country’s security,” he said.