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Diplomacy Watch: Roiling disagreements over Ukraine path at NATO

Diplomacy Watch: Roiling disagreements over Ukraine path at NATO

The question of membership — for Ukraine, as well as Sweden — is a ‘consuming debate’ among US and European partners.


The next NATO summit will be held next month in Vilnius, Lithuania. The alliance has so far touted its unity in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but questions over future members are making headlines this week as the conference nears.  

Ukraine reportedly will not receive an official invitation to the alliance while the war is ongoing, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that he wants “clear” invitations and a pathway to membership this summer, indicating that he would not attend the summit in the absence of such signals. 

According to The New York Times, a number of member states agree with Zelensky, with Eastern European nations in particular pushing for the alliance to commit to inviting Ukraine, and providing Kyiv with a specific timeline and concrete targets to meet in order to be admitted. 

Washington, according to reports, remains unconvinced. 

The Times cites an anonymous U.S. official saying that Ukrainian membership has become a “consuming debate,” both in Europe and inside the Biden administration. Politico reported on Wednesday that the so-called “European Quad” — consisting of the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany — were working to provide Kyiv with a security guarantee that would not amount to a full pathway to NATO membership, which some other members find unsatisfactory. 

“The real security guarantee is provided only by the alliance,” said one European official, according to Politico, “and any temporary arrangements cannot be sold as replacements for full membership, which provides a collective guarantee of countries to each other and which is, I would say, the strongest available guarantee in Europe.”

Elsewhere, disputes over Sweden’s membership could further complicate the upcoming summit. The Hungarian government has stalled approving Sweden’s bid, ostensibly because Stockholm has criticized Budapest’s democratic credentials. In response, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is taking the rare step of blocking a $735 million U.S. arms sale to Hungary. 

The tension between Hungary and other member states have raised concerns that Budapest could complicate NATO’s response to the war in Ukraine. “Sweden and Finland’s decision to apply for NATO membership has been widely viewed as a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who justified his invasion of Ukraine by underscoring the threat the military alliance poses to his country,” reports the Washington Post. 

“U.S. officials say Putin did not anticipate the West would hold together in support of Ukraine as it has, but they worry that the decision by Hungary and Turkey to delay ratification for Sweden’s bid, which requires the support of all of the alliance’s existing members, risks exposing it as divided and ineffective.” 

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

—Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that the U.S. will continue to maximize its assistance to Ukraine and bolster its defenses for the future, saying that the ongoing counteroffensive was key to Kyiv’s fortunes. Speaking alongside Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani at a joint press availability, Blinken said “Ukraine’s success in the counter offensive would do two things. It would strengthen its position at any negotiating table that emerges, and it may have the effect as well of actually causing Putin to finally focus on negotiating an end to the war that he started.”  

—Ukrainian officials claimed their first wins from the recently launched counteroffensive on Monday, saying that they had liberated seven villages in the east and south of the country. According to NBC News, “The gains were celebrated on social media. But they are small-scale victories in the early days of what is expected to be a long and difficult effort to drive the Kremlin’s forces out of occupied land across the country's south and east.” 

—The Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA warned Ukraine not to attack the Nord Stream gas pipelines last summer: “The exchange of information began in June, when Dutch military intelligence officials told the CIA that a Ukrainian sabotage team was looking to rent a yacht on the Baltic coastline and use a team of divers to plant explosives along the four pipes of the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 pipelines.” 

—Nuclear-armed states are expanding and modernizing their arsenals as tensions continue to rise between great powers, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. As RS’s Connor Echols wrote on Monday, “Chances for renewed disarmament talks have flagged following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early last year. Washington and Moscow both took steps recently to reduce their compliance with the New START Treaty — the only agreement capping the number of warheads that each country deploys, which expires in 2026.” 

U.S. State Department news:

During the weekly press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller addressed China’s peace proposal, in advance of Blinken’s trip to Beijing. 

“With respect to any potential peace proposals, we have also been clear that we welcome the involvement of any country that is willing to help secure a just and lasting peace in Ukraine. China has said that they are interested in pursuing peace, but they’ve also been closely aligned with Russia since the outset of this war. So if China is serious about pursuing a peace that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty, that respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity, of course, that would be important and that would be useful. I’m sure that this will be a matter of conversation during the trip.” 

Chris Murphy Ben Cardin

Photo Credit: viewimage and lev radin via

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