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A small group of Western allies are in “advanced” and “frantic, last-minute” talks to finalize a security pledge for Ukraine ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Lithuania, four officials familiar with the talks said.
For weeks, the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany have been discussing the issue with Kyiv, and have also reached out to NATO, the European Union and other allies in the G7. Although the details differ from country to country, the idea is to create an “umbrella” for all countries willing to provide ongoing military assistance to Ukraine.
The initiative is part of broader talks between NATO and a group of other countries on how Western allies should show long-term support for Ukraine.
Kyiv wants to join NATO as soon as possible, giving it access to the alliance’s enforced Article 5 – an attack on one is an attack on all. But many allies in the coalition broadly agree that Ukraine can only join after the war.
So the alliance’s biggest powers are working to see what stop-gap defense commitments they can offer Ukraine in the meantime. That view is not universal, however, with countries on NATO’s eastern flank pushing for Ukraine to be put on the fast track, even as fighting rages.
According to officials in Berlin, Paris, London and Brussels, the Western powers’ goal is to unveil their umbrella structure around NATO’s annual summit. The two-day event begins on Tuesday in Vilnius.
“A discussion is going on; It is very advanced, in fact it is very advanced, and we are very confident that it will be concluded at the end of the summit,” a French official told reporters.
A senior NATO diplomat admitted to reporters at a separate briefing that there were currently “frantic last-minute negotiations” on “how it should look”.
Last minute details
US President Joe Biden is due to meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London on Monday, where their two staff members will try to hammer out last-minute details, a second NATO diplomat said. On the US side, Pentagon policy chief Colin Kall is working to bring the deal to the finish line.
This initiative could include pledges to continue many of the assistance already provided by aid partners, such as weapons, equipment, training, finance and intelligence. But the aim is to provide a more permanent signal of unity to Ukraine, especially since Kiev is unlikely to secure a firm commitment to NATO membership at this week’s summit.
“For Ukraine, it’s basically a guarantee to Ukraine that we will, for a very long time, equip their armed forces, fund them, advise them, train them so that they have a deterrent force against future aggression,” the senior NATO diplomat said.
However, many details of this support will be left for later. Each interested country should “determine bilaterally what your commitment is” with Ukraine, the ambassador said. It could be anything from air defense to tanks.
Last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholes “appealed to all countries that want to support Ukraine,” saying they should “take decisions one, two, three, and if necessary, that will help them continue that support.” Stay for many more years because we don’t know how long the military conflict will last.
NATO has also been drawing up new ways to help Ukraine’s military for years, breaking away from a security pledge that Western powers are finalizing.
NATO will agree plans at the summit to help modernize Ukraine’s defenses, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said. told reporters On Friday. The plan, he said, would include “a multi-year assistance program to ensure full interoperability between the Ukrainian Armed Forces and NATO.”
That multi-year effort will also focus on Ukrainian military modernization programs, and as with the “umbrella” initiative, individual countries will depend on what they need to contribute.
NATO leaders will also create a new NATO-Ukraine forum, giving the two sides a space to work on “practical joint activities.” Stoltenberg added.
The broader security assurance dialogue is inevitably intertwined with a discussion of Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, which will be high on the agenda when leaders gather in Vilnius.
“We will address Ukraine’s membership aspirations, something NATO allies will continue to work on,” US Ambassador to NATO Julian Smith told reporters on Friday in a formal statement to be issued during the summit.
In particular, the leaders aim to make good on the alliance’s vague 2008 promise that Ukraine would “become” a NATO member at some point. But they are not expected to give Kiev the “clear invitation” demanded by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Scholz agreed last week.
“Of course, we will also discuss the question of how to continue the perspective of countries that want to look at NATO and join it,” Schales said. Nevertheless, he added, “it is also clear that no one can become a member of a security alliance in times of war.”
However Stoltenberg struck an upbeat tone on Friday.
“I hope we have a clear message,” he said. “We must remember that allies already agree on many important principles when it comes to Ukraine and membership.”
Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.