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NATO: Ukraine's path to membership 'irreversible' as calls for formal invitation grow

Ukrainian refugee Mariia Hlyten holds a sign outside the NATO summit in Washington.
Ukrainian refugee Mariia Hlyten holds a sign outside the NATO summit in Washington. Copyright Noah Berger/AP
Copyright Noah Berger/AP
By Shona Murray
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Kyiv has not been offered a formal invitation to join the alliance, as there is no consensus among allies for such an endeavour.


NATO’s reassuring language that Ukraine’s path to membership of the alliance is “irreversible” represents a step forward, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Stefanishyna said.

It’s a "very strong message on membership," she told Euronews.

Moreover, it’s a clear signal to Russia about Ukraine’s future, she said.

Several experts say membership is the only guarantee of Ukrainian security, particularly because the majority of Ukrainian territory would be covered by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which ensures that an attack on one ally is responded to as if it were an attack on all allies.

"It's not enough to say that NATO's future is in NATO," says former US ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder.

"Russia will not give up its goal of controlling Ukraine unless and until Ukraine is integrated in the Western institutions – NATO and the European Union," he told Euronews.

"It’s a wasted opportunity not to offer membership to Ukraine," said Ed Arnold, Senior Research Fellow for European Security at the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI).

"We don’t have time; anyone can reverse the course of Ukraine’s path because the language at this summit is not legally binding," he said.

"Trump can reverse it if he comes to power. And we know how Trump dislikes other people’s deals, not to mention the fact that Trump has a bad history with Zelenskyy."

As US president, Donald Trump attempted to blackmail Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by withholding US military support for Ukraine unless he created a bogus investigation into corruption by Hunter Biden – the son of Joe Biden. The matter led to Trump's impeachment after whistleblowers revealed the affair.

Zelenskyy and his team, including Deputy PM Stefanishyna, are in Washington for the 75th anniversary of NATO.

Ukraine safe only with 'zero Russian soldiers' on its soil

NATO allies significantly stepped up their contributions to Ukraine as part of this week’s summit, including dozens of defence systems and a timeline for the delivery of F-16 fighter jets.

"All of the announcements on air defences and Patriot systems are important, but they won’t move the dial for Ukrainian security — not like NATO membership would," said Arnold.

Part of the concern among some countries in hesitating to support Ukrainian membership is the clear liability and risk that would emerge for allies in admitting a country in the middle of an intense armed conflict.  

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the NATO Summit in Washington.
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the NATO Summit in Washington.Adrian Wyld/AP

However, Ambassador Daalder says that only the undisputed parts of Ukraine would be covered under Article 5 guarantees.


Occupied areas such as Crimea, the Donbas and parts of Ukraine's east would not be covered. But Kyiv and the rest would be, which would, in theory, go some way in deterring Russia from attacks such as the one this week on the hospitals, including one children’s hospital.

“NATO's has in the past provided security guarantees and brought in members who have territorial disputes”, said Ivo Daalder.

"This is not something new. In 1955, West Germany became a member of NATO and quite explicitly was understood that East Germany, which was still a disputed territory, was not part of NATO's territory."

Stefanishnya agrees that NATO membership is the best solution but ultimately says the only true guarantee of security is if and when Russia ceases its brutal territorial conquest and stops bombing civilians and civilian targets.


‘’There is much more that we need. And as long as long as people die in Ukraine, we will never feel fully able to prepare ourselves."

"The moment when zero Russian soldiers are on Ukrainian soil, this will be the moment where we will be able to say that people are safe," she concluded.

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