Leaders of nine NATO countries in Europe released a joint statement on Sunday throwing their support behind a path to membership for Ukraine, which applied to join the military alliance just days earlier.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy applied on Friday for the country to get fast-tracked NATO membership in response to Russia annexing four regions in violation of international law. Ukraine and the West have denounced as a sham Russian President Vladimir Putin’s referendums to annex the regions ― his latest move in the months-long war.
A country needs approval from all 30 members to join NATO, and Ukraine has received mixed responses in the past from the alliance due to its geographic proximity to Russia. Being at war complicates the country’s request to join the military alliance.
The nine NATO countries that voiced support for Ukraine’s membership are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. All of the countries are in Central and Eastern Europe, and could face Russian aggression next if it isn’t stopped in Ukraine.
“We reiterate our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We do not recognize and will never recognize Russian attempts to annex any Ukrainian territory,” the statement said. “We firmly stand behind the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit decision concerning Ukraine’s future membership.”
At the 2008 summit, NATO members welcomed Ukraine and Georgia’s desires to join the alliance, but declined to provide a clear timeline for the countries’ path to membership. The letter on Sunday also did not provide such a timeline, though Zelenskyy thanked the countries for publicly supporting Ukraine becoming a member.
Finland and Sweden officially applied to join NATO on a fast-track in May out of security concerns following Russia’s invasion. Most member countries have already ratified their applications, and the two nations are on track to join the alliance.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday that the U.S. has long supported an open-door policy for NATO, but that the application process for Ukraine “should be taken up at a different time.”
“Right now, our view is that the best way for us to support Ukraine is through practical, on-the-ground support in Ukraine,” Sullivan said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gave a similar response on Sunday, telling Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Ukraine has the right to choose what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of, but that “any decision on membership has to be taken by consensus.”
After the annexation, the U.S. sanctioned over 1,000 people and firms connected to Russia’s invasion, including its Central Bank governor and families of National Security Council members. Sullivan said that sanctions have been a “critical element” to the White House’s strategy against Putin’s regime because of the “economic pressure that we are placing on Russia, and the denial of their ability to gather what they need to be able to regenerate their war machine.”