NATO Summit in Lithuania: Ukraine’s membership and defense funding at the heart of the meeting between the Allies

Ukraine dreams that its two-tone flag will fly above the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion on its territory almost a year and a half ago, Volodymyr Zelensky has been increasing his appeals to the Allies. The Ukrainian president has also held meetings with several member countries of the Alliance (Poland, Czech Republic, Turkey) before this summit, which will be held on Tuesday July 11 and Wednesday July 12, in Vilnius (Lithuania). He hopes to receive a “clear signal” on his country’s membership in NATO. But kyiv must be patient, recalled Jens Stoltenberg. “Ukraine will become a member of NATO at some point (…) but it will not receive an invitation to Vilnius”the first step in the accession process, warned the Secretary General of NATO.

Failing to make room for kyiv immediately, the Allies could discuss a clear timetable and a concrete roadmap. Prior to his meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, Wednesday June 28, Emmanuel Macron assured that the members of NATO would “defining a path to materialize (this) perspective”. “They will certainly discuss an agenda, but without specifying the date on which Ukraine will join the Alliance”believes Jean-Pierre Maulny, deputy director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris) and specialist in defense issues.

The President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, and the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, on June 28, 2023 at the Elysée Palace (Paris).  (MUSTAFA YALCIN / ANADOLU AGENCY / AFP)

Because, above all, “you have to reach consensus between the members, since that’s how decisions are made, which is not easy”, recalls Vira Ratsiborynska, assistant professor on NATO at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Eastern European countries, France and even Spain largely support kyiv’s entry into the Atlantic Alliance. But other members, such as the United States or Germany, are more cautious. “I don’t think we have unanimity in NATO to bring in – or not – Ukraine (…) in the middle of a war”recalled the American president, Joe Biden, in an interview with CNN published on Sunday.

A strengthened partnership with Moscow

Imminent accession would indeed imply that “NATO is going directly to war with Russia”, emphasizes Amélie Zima, researcher at the Institute for Strategic Research of the Military School (Irsem). The Allies bordering Russian territory – the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Poland – would then find themselves in the front line. The objective is to avoid an escalation of the conflict, inevitable in this scenario since article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates that if a member country is attacked, the others must come to its aid. Which means, potentially, taking up arms. kyiv bowed to this argument. “We are a responsible state and we understand that we cannot be a member of NATO in time of war”, admitted Volodymyr Zelensky. While adding: “We must be sure that after the war we will be”.

As long as the fighting continues with Moscow, kyiv will therefore not join NATO. However, the Allies wish to continue their support for the Ukrainian troops. At the end of June, Emmanuel Macron and Jens Stoltenberg were to“agree on a set of measures” to be adopted at the summit. Westerners have already sent ammunition, weapons, tanks, drones, medical equipment, equipment… as well that financial assistance “which amounts to several billion euros”. “They should set up a specific partnership with Ukraine, which will include the training of political personnel or the organization of the army”anticipates Jean-Pierre Maulny.

“The point of this partnership is that Kyiv will be ready when the member states decide that it can join the Alliance.”

Jean-Pierre Maulny, Deputy Director of Iris

at BlazeTrends

On the occasion of the Vilnius summit, the first meeting of the new NATO-Ukraine Council will be held. “It will allow a more structured and permanent dialogue”, emphasizes Jean-Pierre Maulny. For Amélie Zima, it is above all a symbolic initiative: “It reinforces Ukraine’s status as a partner and it sends a strong message to Moscow. NATO shows that it continues and will continue to support kyiv, despite what it costs it”.

Spend more to offset aid to Kyiv

Sending additional weapons and equipment could also be discussed in Vilnius. The question of consensus is again essential, especially on the money to be injected. In 2006, then in 2014, the NATO countries had agreed: their defense spending had to represent at least 2% of their GDP. Last year, only seven of the 31 Allies complied with this rule, says NATO. “This money is not used to help a third country, but to protect member countriesspecifies Amélie Zima. As they transfer defense equipment to Ukraine, they have to spend more to fill the gaps in their stocks.”

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In order to send a message of support to Kyiv, without increasing the budget, “we will declare that 2% of GDP is no longer an objective to be achieved, but a floor amount. We can no longer be below and we can exceed it”, provides the deputy director of Iris. Berlin has already set the tone at the end of June. “We will ensure that the federal army finally gets the equipment it needs (…) again spending, for the first time in decades, 2% of our GDP on defence, starting next year”said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Still, Germany still has to find several tens of billions of euros to meet this commitment, as noted by The echoes.

Sweden, soon an Ally against Moscow

Another burning issue will be on the table on Tuesday and Wednesday in Lithuania: Sweden’s membership of NATO, which has been in the works for months. After blocking, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, finally “agreed to transmit Sweden’s accession protocol” in the Turkish National Assembly “and work with to secure ratification”announced Jens Stoltenberg on Monday evening.

Turkey accused the Swedish government of complacency towards Kurdish sympathizers in its territory, and in particular those of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an organization considered “terrorist” by some of the Allies. In recent months, anti-Islam protests in Sweden – including burning Korans on public roads – had raised tensions. And Stockholm had opposed the extradition of a dozen Kurds to Turkey, a condition set by Ankara, at the time, to lift its veto.

Sweden’s entry would strengthen NATO’s security against Moscow. “It would allow better defense of the North and the Baltic States, which share their borders with Russia. They were totally isolated before Finland joined in early April. The idea is to lock the Baltic Sea”, points out Amélie Zima. Jean-Pierre Maulny nuances: “Stockholm is not going to bring anything really significant to the defense of NATO. It is above all the country which wants to protect itself and benefit from Article 5.”

NATO wants to unite against Russia, but also Belarus, a faithful ally of the Kremlin. “Alliance members believe they have overestimated Belarus’ role as a buffer state with Russiaanalyzes Amélie Zima. And this, because Lukashenko had posed as a mediator during the Minsk agreements” signed in 2015 to end the war in Donbass. The arrival of the leader of the Wagner group, Evguéni Prigojine, on Belarusian soil after his aborted rebellion does not help matters. “The Lithuanians are very worried. In response, Germany said it was ready to deploy 4,000 troops on Lithuanian soil”, instead of 850 currently, recalls Jean-Pierre Maulny. If Ukraine will be at the center of this summit meeting, Lithuania therefore also hopes that additional support for the eastern flank of the Alliance will be on the program.

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