Ukraine must defeat Russia to join NATO – Zelensky

Some allies are skeptical of accepting Ukraine in the midst of an armed conflict, its president has said

Ukraine needs to defeat Russia on the battlefield in order to be admitted to NATO, President Vladimir Zelensky has said. The US-led alliance has made it clear earlier that Kiev cannot become a member while the fighting is ongoing. 

“I believe that we will be in NATO only if we win. I don’t think that we will be admitted to NATO during the war,” Zelensky said on Tuesday during a meeting with a group of military officers in Kiev. 

He explained that the admission of Ukraine would require unanimous approval by the alliance’s 32 members. Some members are reluctant to admit Ukraine in the midst of an ongoing armed conflict because “they feel the risks, while others are simply skeptical,” Zelensky argued. “Therefore, for Ukraine to be accepted into the alliance, we need victory.” He went on to add that eventual membership would secure Ukraine’s security and independence.

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Ukraine formally applied to join NATO in September 2022. While NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and individual members agree that Ukraine should someday become part of NATO, Kiev has not been presented with a concrete timetable. It is widely understood that the country will not be admitted until the conflict with Russia is resolved.

Stoltenberg, who visited Kiev on Monday, admitted to Reuters that the delays in promised weapons deliveries had “put a dent into the trust” between Ukraine and its foreign backers. 

While the EU is struggling to find enough arms and ammunition for Ukraine’s wartime needs, the newest aid package from the US had been stuck for months in Congress due to political wrangling. The delays sparked worries in Kiev, with Zelensky openly warning that Ukraine would lose if ammunition shortages are not remedied. Ukrainian officials have blamed the slowdown of deliveries for last year’s failed counteroffensive, as well as more recent losses of cities in the east to the Russian army.

Russia, for its part, has cited NATO’s continuing expansion eastward and the bloc’s military cooperation with Ukraine as one of the root causes of the conflict. Moscow considers NATO a threat to its national security and insists that Ukraine must become a neutral country.

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