Ukraine’s path to membership is an achievable objective, says Lithuania

Lithuania’s president said Monday that charting a path for Ukraine’s NATO membership is an “achievable goal,” even as members of the military alliance touted lower security assurances ahead of a two-day summit this week.

Speaking to CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick in Vilnius, Gitanas Nauseda said various interim security assurances would be discussed at Tuesday’s NATO members’ meeting in the Lithuanian capital, but added that Ukraine ultimately has a legitimate place in the military alliance.

US President Joe Biden said Sunday that Washington is ready to provide security to Ukraine in a manner similar to Israel’s, by providing “the weapons they need and the capability for self-defense.” These comments were confirmed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“It could be considered as a temporary solution on the way to full integration into NATO. And it is a very advantageous form of cooperation. But this is not a substitute for full NATO membership,” Nauseda said.

“I don’t think this is Ukraine’s ultimate goal. Ukraine’s ultimate goal is to be included in the NATO alliance family,” he added.

When asked if Ukraine would be given a path to membership at this week’s meeting, Nauseda said it could.

“I think it is [an] “It’s an achievable goal and that’s also a very important goal,” he said.

In retaliation against Moscow, Kyiv applied for accelerated NATO membership in September 2022 after saying it had annexed four Ukrainian regions as part of its all-out invasion. NATO’s European expansion has long been a point of provocation for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

NATO drops important membership requirement for Ukraine

Earlier Monday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said NATO had dropped the Membership Action Plan (MAP) requirement for Ukraine – one of the biggest sticking points in the accession talks.

Nauseda said this would simplify and speed up negotiations, adding that Ukraine is likely to receive further pledges of support from NATO members during the meeting.

“Ukraine needs [a] “It is a political signal, but Ukraine also needs practical support and I think that support will be given,” he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda address the media ahead of the 2023 NATO Summit July 10, 2023 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images

It is not clear whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will attend this week’s summit. He previously stated that he would only do so if Kiev received a “signal” to join the alliance.

However, Nauseda said he was confident and expected his counterpart to show up.

“I think it’s very important to see him here in Vilnius, especially now,” he said, noting the increasing security risks around the eastern flank. It follows the apparent transfer of Russian Wagner forces to Belarus following the failed mutiny of the mercenary group just over two weeks ago.

“The security situation in our region is deteriorating. It’s not improving, it’s not even stable,” Nauseda said.

“We see the deployment of additional capabilities to the Kaliningrad region. Belarus is playing an increasingly important role as a close ally of Russia. So we have to be clear that we have to make decisions to strengthen the entire eastern flank.”

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Another closely-watched topic at the talks will be Sweden’s ongoing accession negotiations, which have met with opposition from Turkey because Stockholm has not done enough to crack down on Kurdish groups Ankara sees as terrorists. To join, the countries need the unanimous consent of the 31 existing NATO member states.

Nauseda said he was confident a solution could be reached with Ankara and also breakaway Hungary, perhaps as early as Monday night.

“I still expect that maybe tonight there will be good news from Sweden as well,” he said.

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