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Ukraine: NATO membership a question of 'when, not if'

April 3, 2024

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has reportedly floated a five-year, €100 billion package that allies are set to discuss in Brussels. Ahead of the meeting, he said Ukraine's NATO membership was a question of "when, not if."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron during a group photo of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock described the plan to put aid to Kyiv on long-term footing as "right and important"Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP Photo/picture alliance

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the alliance must provide Ukraine with more systematic military support over a longer period, and that Kyiv's membership in the alliance is a matter of "when, not if."

He was speaking as the foreign ministers of NATO member states met in Brussels for a two-day meeting. 

"We need to shift the dynamics of our support," Stoltenberg said as he arrived at the meeting.

"We must ensure reliable and predictable security assistance to Ukraine for the long haul so that we rely less on voluntary contributions and more on NATO commitments, less on short-term offers and more on multi-year pledges."

Stoltenberg said, "The details will take shape in the weeks to come. But make no mistake, Ukraine can rely on NATO support now and for the long haul." 

Ukraine support tops agenda

Stoltenberg declined to comment on proposals reported by mulitple diplomats that he has proposed military support for Ukraine worth €100 billion ($108 billion) over the next five years.

The aim is reportedly to have an aid package finalized in time for a NATO summit that will be held in Washington in July.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed that the proposals would be discussed over the course of the two-day Brussels meeting chaired by Stoltenberg.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said the assistance should not be considered "charity" and warned against "making promises we cannot keep."

The proposals received support from the foreign ministers of NATO members Latvia and Poland, whose countries both share borders with Russia.

Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins said the proposal could be funded if allied members committed "a certain percentage of GDP."

That call was backed by the UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who said upon arrival at the meeting that it was "vital that Britain and [NATO] get the weapons and support Ukraine needs" by committing "two percent" of GDP.

Swedish FM: 'Prolonged period of conflict with Russia' ahead

Though no doubt appreciative of long-term commitments, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told NATO allies that Kyiv also needs help now: "Ukraine is currently the only country in the world that defends itself against ballistic missile attacks almost every day," he wrote on the social media platform X.

"This means that all Patriot batteries available around the world that can be provided to Ukraine must be delivered to Ukraine as soon as possible. There is no more important place for them," he added.

NATO's Stoltenberg: 'Security is global'

Ahead of the meeting, Stoltenberg also looked further afield, saying Russia's invasion of Ukraine illustrates that NATO's security concerns are "global, not regional."

"Russia's friends in Asia are vital in [enabling it to] continue its war of aggression," he said. "China is propping up Russia's war economy. In return, Moscow is mortgaging its future to Beijing. North Korea and Iran are delivering substantial supplies of weapons and ammunition. In return, Pyongyang and Tehran are receiving Russian technology and supplies that help them advance their missile and nuclear capabilities."

"This has regional and global security consequences. Like-minded nations around the world need to stand together to defend a global order ruled by law and not by force."

Stoltenberg: Ukraine can rely on NATO for support

What Donald Trump might mean for Ukraine support

The push for more aid comes amid mounting concern that support for Ukraine's defensive efforts against Russia's invasion is stalling and warnings from Kyiv that ammunition stockpiles are running low.

"Every delay in the provision of support has consequences on the battlefield," said Stoltenberg. "The Ukrainians are not running out of courage, they're running out of ammunition."

German news agency DPA cited NATO diplomats as saying they aim to make support for Ukraine less dependent on political developments in individual member states and to shift the burden of responsibility among the alliance.

This issue relates to the second aspect of Stoltenberg's proposals in Brussels, namely a more active NATO role in the coordination of arms supplies to Kyiv. To date, that role has largely fallen to a US-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG), also known as the "Ramstein Group."

NATO has until now been reluctant to take the fore as an organization for fear of stumbling into direct military conflict with Moscow, which has, for instance, said US F-16 fighter jets promised to Ukraine but based in third countries, would be considered legitimate military targets.

Moscow-friendly Hungary has consistently rejected direct NATO involvement, saying such a stance could "draw the alliance closer to war."

Currently, a $60-billion US funding package continues to be blocked by Republicans in Congress but there are hopes lawmakers could move to pass it in the coming weeks.

The NATO proposals aim to make the procurement and provision of aid to Ukraine less dependent on the US-led UDCG, especially given the possible reelection of former US President Donald Trump.

In February, he threatened to encourage Moscow to attack NATO members who were not meeting their financial obligations.

"If NATO could take over responsibility for support for Ukraine, it could be protected from any domestic issues in any member state — and of course that refers to the major aid package currently being stalled in the US Congress," explained DW's Alexandra von Nahmen, reporting from the summit.

Also on the agenda for NATO foreign ministers in Brussels

Ministers meeting in Brussels are expected to discuss the race to replace Stoltenberg.

Some had hoped to choose his successor at the talks, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reportedly having the backing of 90% of members.

However, there is opposition from Hungary and also a surprise challenge from Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

75 years of NATO

On Thursday, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of NATO's founding.

The defense alliance was established in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II with just 12 members and today now has 32.

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js,mf,kb,7rtab (dpa, Reuters)