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US-led NATO mulls future security guarantees for Ukraine

Banners at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. (Photo by Reuters)

Foreign ministers of the US-led NATO military alliance have met in Oslo to discuss offering future security guarantees to Ukraine amid Kiev's push to join the increasingly hawkish bloc.

The ministers of NATO’s 31 member countries discussed the issue in the Norwegian capital of Oslo for a second and final day of informal talks that seek to unify positions ahead of a NATO leader’s summit on July 11-12 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, backed by some NATO countries in Eastern Europe, is demanding a “clear message” at the July summit that Kiev will join the military alliance once its war with Russia ends amid very little prospect for conflict's conclusion.

“It is for Ukraine and NATO allies to decide when Ukraine becomes a NATO member, it's not up to Moscow to decide,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt declared in a press briefing on the eve of the two-day meeting.

Last week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine would not be able to join while the war with Russia raged but said that would be different when the conflict was over.

“The most urgent and important task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails,” Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg is further pushing for a decade-long program worth 500 million Euros ($530 million) per year to help Ukraine's military switch to Western standards. That would be on top of the tens of billions of dollars in arms that allies have already sent.

During the meeting, Estonia's Foreign Minister, Margus Tsahkna, claimed that giving “strong defense guarantees to Ukraine,” sends a clear message to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and to Russia.

Joining NATO would mean Ukraine would benefit from a collective security guarantee — so-called Article 5 of the organization’s founding Washington Treaty — which ensures that an attack on any one of their number would be considered an attack on them all.

“All NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member,” NATO Secretary-General said in April. “Ukraine’s future is in NATO.”

However, Ukrainians are waiting for NATO membership for the past two decades. In 2008, the US-led alliance promised to eventually let Ukraine in, but it first concluded that admitting the country was not worth the damage to Western-Russian relations.

In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, NATO decided that Ukraine’s membership would demand too much of the alliance, and for too little in return.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin, has repeatedly claimed that preventing Ukraine from joining NATO has been a key goal of its ‘special military operation’, arguing that Kiev’s membership would pose an existential threat to Russia.

The other key issue planned to be discussed in NATO’s yearly summit is a new pledge to boost NATO's current target for each member to spend at least two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense.

Last year only seven members hit that figure, and the allies agree on the need to make the two-percent goal “a floor, not a ceiling.” Eastern European members, which have already boosted defense spending beyond 2% are disappointed by the lack of ambition shown by some allies.

One issue also being discussed by ministers on the sidelines of the meeting is finding a successor to Stoltenberg as NATO secretary general since the former Norwegian premier has held the post since 2014 and his tenure was extended to September this year.

The ministers will also focus on Sweden and its NATO bid, according to officials, as they meet only a few days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won reelection. Sweden applied to join the alliance in May 2022, alongside its traditionally neutral neighbor Finland but its membership is blocked by Turkey and Hungry.

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