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Kuleba Stoltenberg NATO summit Ukraine

Ukraine leaves NATO birthday party with promises of air defense, but not membership

Germany will initiate the search for Patriot air defense systems, but the promise of a NATO membership this summer is still vague
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (left) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during the NATO Summit on 4 April 2024. Photo from Kuleba’s twitter
Ukraine leaves NATO birthday party with promises of air defense, but not membership

The NATO summit in Brussels commemorating the 75th anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty focused on discussions of finding aid and air defense for Ukraine. However, no fresh pledge for membership was made at the meeting, which included a Ukraine-NATO Council.

Air defense first priority for Ukraine

Ahead of the summit, which happened in the wake of a Russian deadly strike on Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba shared that Ukraine’s number one priority would be securing additional air defense, first of all, Patriot launchers.

Ukraine needs at least seven more to cover its territory, while NATO members have 100 of the Patriot launchers capable of downing ballistic missiles in their arsenals, Kuleba said.

His call appears to have fallen on receptive ears. During the summit, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated that Germany will initiate the search for Patriots.

According to Kuleba, Germany, as the head of the air defence coalition operating within the Ramstein framework, “will immediately initiate an analysis of all systems, Patriot batteries, and other air defense systems available not only to allies but also in the world in general,”

“And what can be done, what combinations can be built to ensure that these batteries are delivered to Ukraine,” the minister added.

In a speech at the Third Ukraine-France Forum in Paris, Kuleba said the key difference between Ukraine’s ongoing search for artillery shells and Patriot systems is that “there is no need to find [the Patriots], everyone knows where they are.”

He explained that the essence of the discussion now lies in how to redeploy these systems in Western countries to free up several batteries.

The foreign minister noted that Western colleagues often tell him, “We understand you, but what you’re saying is very difficult to do.” However, Kuleba expressed confidence that “one night spent in Kharkiv would make this decision much easier for them.”

Kuleba also emphasized that supplying air defense systems is beneficial for Western countries, as “if you don’t shoot down the missiles flying at an energy facility, tomorrow you will have to spend money on restoring that facility.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg remarked at a press conference during the summit that Ukraine’s allies understand its need for air defense and that several allies will review their Patriot supplies “in the nearest time.” He did not provide details.

US State Secretary Antony Blinken also appeared receptive to the call, as Kuleba tweeted after a meeting that immediate action was taken after hearing the request for Patriots.

Estonia’s Foreign Minister Margus Tsakhna supported Ukraine’s proposal to transfer air defence systems that Western countries have in their arsenal but do not use.

Tsakhkna stressed that Ukraine urgently needs ammunition and air defence systems, and their supply should be fast, as otherwise, the military situation on the battlefield will deteriorate.

“We have many air defense systems, such as Patriot, which we do not use ourselves. But Ukraine is under massive attacks around the clock. So we need to give Ukraine these systems that we don’t use to protect their people, civilian infrastructure, and energy infrastructure,” he said.

Ukraine hopes for membership invitation at Washington summit

Ukraine formally applied for membership in September 2022, months after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion in February.

In Vilnius on 11-12 July 2023, a historic NATO decision affirmed Ukraine’s future membership, but Ukraine did not receive an invitation. Instead, a NATO-Ukraine council was launched.

To join NATO, Ukraine must undertake security and political reforms. However, it remains uncertain whether Washington and 32 other allies, including Sweden, will agree on the next steps.

Ukraine and its allies, primarily the Baltics and Poland, are pushing for the alliance to issue an invitation at a key summit in Washington in July 2024, but have run into strong resistance from the US and Germany.

These major contributors of economic and military aid to Ukraine maintain their commitment to Ukraine’s eventual NATO membership, yet stress that the current moment is not conducive to initiating the NATO membership process.

As Yehor Cherniev, head of the permanent Ukrainian delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, told RBC-Ukraine, Ukraine’s maximum task for NATO’s summer summit is to receive an official invitation to join the Alliance. This would mean that Ukraine has a “reserved seat” in NATO.

At the same time, Cherniev added that the minimum task is a roadmap for Ukraine’s accession to NATO. It is likely to contain steps for membership, as well as timelines.

During the summit, US State Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the US commitment for Ukraine to eventually join NATO but made no commitments ahead of the alliance’s July summit.

“Ukraine will become a member of NATO. Our purpose at the summit is to help build a bridge to that membership,” Blinken told reporters Thursday in Brussels.

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