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NATO: Ukraine’s membership only a question of when, not if

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (C) attends a meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 15, 2024. (AFP)

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Ukraine’s accession to the military alliance is only a question of time, though NATO leaders are still seeking to overcome divisions on the second anniversary of the war with Russia.

Stoltenberg made the remarks in a recorded message to mark the second anniversary of “Russia’s military operation” in Ukraine on Saturday.

“Ukraine will join NATO. It is not a question of if, but of when. As we prepare you for that day, NATO will continue to stand with Ukraine. For your security, and for ours.”

Stoltenberg said Russian President Vladimir Putin had started the operation to close the door to eventual NATO membership for Kiev, “but he has achieved the exact opposite.”

“Ukraine is now closer to NATO than ever before.”

Timing of Ukraine’s membership has long been an issue among the NATO leaders over concerns that a Ukraine in NATO would formally draw the alliance of 31 member states into war with Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky officially applied for that membership in September 2022, seven months after Russia launched its “special military operation” partly to prevent NATO’s eastward expansion.

Moscow has repeatedly warned NATO against its further expansion towards the Russian borders and described Ukraine’s bid for membership as “purely destabilizing.”

Stoltenberg also promised that NATO will continue to provide Kiev with major military assistance as long as it is fighting the war with Russia.

“These cover key capabilities like artillery ammunition, air defense, and combat boats. As well as F-16 equipment and spare parts, drones, and demining equipment.”

“More support is on the way,” said the NATO chief.

Nevertheless, Washington, the leading provider of military assistance to Ukraine, has been struggling to get a final congressional vote for the $60-billion aid package for Kiev since last year.

In the meantime, Western leaders arrived in Kiev on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the war with Russia. Among the leaders are the European Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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