Reading Biden In Vilnius: NATO Is About To Make Ukraine Stronger Than Ever
Ahead of the Vilnius NATO summit, Joe Biden said Ukraine joining NATO while the war is on is a non-starter. But it's also a done deal once Kyiv has vanquished its Russia invaders.
PARIS — NATO has 31 members, but in the end, it's Washington that decides. All suspense about Ukraine joining the transatlantic defense organization was lifted by President Joe Biden as he left the White House for this week's NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. The U.S. President told CNN that Ukraine was not ready to join the organization immediately. The die was cast.
This was to be expected, despite the over-the-top hopes expressed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his most ardent supporters on NATO's eastern flank. Giving membership to Ukraine in the middle of its war was unthinkable: it meant, in effect, that the military alliance would go to war with Russia — this is something nobody wants, as Biden reminded us in so many words.
But that's not the end of the story. President Zelensky, who is expected to be in Vilnius on Wednesday, will not be leaving the summit empty-handed.
He will have the guarantee of joining the organization as soon as the war is over, by an accelerated route, and there's already a start being made towards political integration with the creation of a NATO-Ukraine Council in Vilnius.
The Kyiv realist
Ukrainians may be disappointed, but Zelensky has proven to be a realist. He pushes as hard as he can, as he did with the weapons he asked the West for — and he makes do with what he gets.
Moscow's invasion has shattered all reservations.
Despite the absence of a precise timetable, Vilnius will mark an important milestone for Ukraine.Until now, Ukraine's status has been the ill-crafted compromise from the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, which opened the door to membership without going any further, to accommodate French and German objections at the time.
At the time of the Russian invasion last year, there was no shortage of voices in the West prepared to accept the neutralization of Ukraine to appease Russia. This is no longer the case today, as Moscow's invasion has shattered all such reservations.
No matter how much the Kremlin protests and threatens, as it did again yesterday on the eve of the Vilnius Summit, not many people in NATO are paying any attention. Even France, which until a few months ago was careful "not to humiliate Russia," to use French President Emmanuel Macron's controversial phrase, has done a 180-degree turn and now backs Ukraine's aspirations almost unconditionally.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Istanbul on July 7, 2023.
With Ukraine for the long haul
In his speech in Bratislava last May, Macron confirmed his new approach to diplomacy: it was determined by the scale of the Russian war, which is radicalizing viewpoints; by the absence of any possibility of negotiation in this phase of the war; and also by the risk of definitively "losing" the confidence of Central and Eastern European countries faced with the immediacy of the conflict.
These countries preferred to turn to their more reliable U.S. ally. All of which confirms Zelensky's belief that NATO countries are with him for the long haul: no mean achievement after 18 months of an unprecedented war on the European continent.
There are obviously different sensibilities within the alliance, and there are also failures of unity, such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's transactional diplomacy. But above all, there is the acute awareness that what is at stake in Ukraine goes beyond the fate of that country — with the world's geopolitical balance at stake.
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