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Euractiv: US and Germany oppose fast-track NATO membership for Ukraine

Two major NATO allies demand that Ukraine fulfill a list of reforms before its NATO membership can be discussed.
NATO Ukraine flags
The Ukrainian and the NATO flags. Source: The Ministry of Affairs of Ukraine

There are disagreements among NATO allies over Ukraine’s rapid accession to the Alliance due to the position of the United States and Germany, Euractiv reported, citing unnamed NATO diplomats.

NATO members have not yet agreed on whether Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO after completing the reforms outlined in the updated Annual National Program, which are the conditions for Ukraine to join the Alliance. The completion of the reforms may be used as a tool to bring Ukraine closer to the Alliance but may not lead to Ukraine’s accession to NATO, Euractiv reported, citing unnamed NATO diplomats.

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Two NATO diplomats told Euractiv that Germany and the US insist the process be condition-driven, not political. Such an approach means that the program will drive reforms, and when the conditions listed are met, Ukraine’s membership can be discussed.

On 29 November 2023, NATO and Ukraine are expected to sign a list of reforms necessary for Ukraine’s future accession to NATO. According to Euractiv, this move is meant to give Ukraine an impetus to reform its armed forces and security-related sectors and provide a checklist NATO members can track. The document will not be public.

“We will agree on recommendations for Ukraine’s priority reforms as we continue to support Kyiv on its path to NATO membership. Allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of NATO,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of the meeting on 27 November.

The reform program does not contain a list of conditions for Ukraine’s accession to NATO. Still, it is a “roadmap” or “tool” to track Ukraine’s progress on its way to NATO membership and inform the leaders of the Alliance, Euractiv reported, citing unnamed NATO diplomats.

When the conditions for reforms that NATO will agree with Ukraine are met, membership can be discussed, unnamed NATO diplomats told Euractiv. On the other hand, there is also a risk that reforms will never be sufficient, making it harder to give the green light for Ukraine’s accession.

“Ultimately, this (Ukraine’s accession to NATO – ed.) remains a political decision,” an unnamed NATO diplomat told Euractiv, citing delays with Türkiye and Hungary in ratifying Sweden’s NATO membership application as a factor that could also block Ukraine’s rapid accession in the future.

Another NATO diplomat told Euractiv that “even if the war ended tomorrow” and Ukraine fulfilled all the conditions listed in the reform plan, NATO members would still have to approve Ukraine’s invitation, which could be complicated.

Four NATO diplomats told Euractiv that implementing the Annual Program of Conditions is less stringent than the Membership Action Plan that candidates for membership in the Alliance had to follow in the past.

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Compared to previous reform plans, Ukraine’s Annual Action Plan is much shorter and less detailed (10 pages instead of 300 pages). This plan contains a list of priority areas rather than a checklist, which made it very difficult for Ukraine to demonstrate its progress, according to Euractiv. It will, therefore, be more manageable for Ukraine to show its achievements before next summer’s NATO summit in Washington in 2024.

The reforms that Ukraine needs to complete are ensuring civilian control over the armed forces, developing a national defense and security strategy, working on interoperability of the armed forces with NATO forces, and anti-corruption reforms (changes in the judicial system, introduction of asset declarations for politically exposed persons, etc.).

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