Nine Central and Eastern European NATO member states on 2 October 2022,declared they supported a path to NATO membership for Ukraine, following its application on Friday.
In a joint statement, the presidents of Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro and North Macedonia said they “firmly stand behind” a NATO decision made at the 2008 Bucharest summit on Ukraine’s membership prospects to the alliance.
Back then, NATO allies had pledged that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually become members without setting a clear timeline for accession.
The process stalled over the years, and after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, it seemed increasingly unlikely that the bid would become a reality.
The nine NATO members’ show of support comes two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday (30 September) declared he was annexing four Ukrainian regions, a move that represents Europe’s biggest land grab since WWII and has been denounced by the international community.
Only hours after the announcement, Ukraine said it had formally applied for a fast-track accession to NATO, with hopes to jump-start its membership bid.
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking to reporters on Friday, shied away from endorsing Ukraine’s bid, reiterating the alliance’s open-door policy.
“Every democracy in Europe has the right to apply for NATO membership, and NATO allies respect that right, and we have stated again and again that NATO’s door remains open,” Stoltenberg said.
He added that NATO members recently affirmed at a summit in Madrid that they “support Ukraine’s right to choose its own path, to decide what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of.”
However, it is unlikely the formal process can be started any time soon as NATO members have so far hesitated to consider Ukraine for membership.
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At the same time, NATO’s treaty includes provisions, especially the collective defence clause Article 5, that restrict accepting a candidate that is at war or has disputed territories.
NATO enlargement studies stressed that the settling of ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes would be a factor in determining whether to invite a country to join the alliance.
Membership in the alliance requires the unanimous support of all its 30 members, and there is no fast-track procedure.
In recent months, NATO has welcomed the application of two new European members, Finland and Sweden, fuelled by security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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On Sunday, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that 10 NATO countries supported Ukraine’s membership in the Western military alliance without naming them.
“Within 48 hours of President Zelenskyy’s signing application to join NATO, ten bloc countries supported Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance mostly countries that remember the poisonous claws of [the Russian] empire”, Podolyak said.“We are grateful for the leadership and responsibility. History is being made today,” he added.
In their joint statement, the nine NATO leaders also said they would never recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of the four Ukrainian regions.
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“Russia [should] immediately withdraw from all occupied territories”, their statement read, adding that “all allies substantially increase their military aid to Ukraine.”
“We reiterate our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” they wrote.Hungary and Bulgaria were absent from the signatories.