Ukrainian civil society appeals to NATO leaders ahead of summit

Next week a NATO summit will be held in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Ukraine hopes to join NATO as soon as possible, but that will not happen as long as the war continues. The summit will show what NATO can offer Ukraine. More than seventy Ukrainian think tanks, NGOs and other organizations are calling on NATO to hurry. According to them, a commitment to membership acts as a deterrent to Russia and gives Ukraine energy and confidence in victory.

 The NATO flag is projected op the town hall of Vilnius. Photo

'Make a historic decision: invite Ukraine to join NATO'

The NATO Summit in Vilnius is approaching. The Alliance will have the opportunity to make a historic decision: to commit to inviting Ukraine to join NATO as soon as possible. We, the representatives of civil society in Ukraine, firmly believe that such a commitment will be the most effective instrument for ending Russia's war against Ukraine, preventing new aggression, maintaining Ukraine’s democratic transformations, and reconstructing Ukraine through partnerships with private enterprise in NATO member states.

Invitation does not imply immediate accession. Even in the case of Finland's record-fast NATO accession, the process took almost a year. Therefore, giving Ukraine an invitation at the Vilnius Summit does not mean immediate obligations to defend it under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Contrary to popular belief, NATO does not have restrictions on inviting new countries to join, even if they are at war. Paragraph 6 of the 1995 Study on NATO Enlargement (regarding the absence of territorial disputes) does not apply to Ukraine. It refers to the requirement for a candidate country to resolve all disputes with other countries "by peaceful means in accordance with the principles of the OSCE."

However, Ukraine has no claims to foreign lands; in accordance with international law norms, it liberates its own territories occupied by Russia. Moreover, since 2014, Ukraine has demonstrated readiness for peaceful negotiations—which the aggressor rejected. If Paragraph 6 were to become a justification for not inviting Ukraine, this would indicate that NATO grants Russia a veto over the Alliance's enlargement.

Instead, the prospect of Ukraine's invitation to the Alliance will accelerate the end of the war without invoking Article 5. During the current crucial counteroffensive, an invitation to join NATO would strengthen the morale of Ukrainians. Ukraine's eventual accession to NATO would mark a moment of irreversibility because the possibility of its return to the Russian Empire would disappear — a possibility which Putin and many representatives of the Russian elite dream of restoring. On the contrary, "strategic ambiguity" regarding Ukraine's future in NATO will only serve as motivation for Russia to continue its invasion and to attack Ukraine again after the war ends.

There is no reason to fear escalation, because Putin himself is afraid of it

There is no reason to fear escalation because Putin himself is afraid of it, knowing that the Russian army has no chance in a military confrontation with NATO. There is also no need to assist Putin in "saving face" — Putin’s total control over the media space means that the Kremlin will find its own way to package any narrative he wants as demonstrated in recent statement of Putin's spokesperson that despite massive supply of Western weapons to Ukraine and modernization of its Armed Forces, Russia’s "objective to demilitarize Ukraine… has largely been achieved".

NATO secretary-general Stoltenberg in Kyiv, 20th of April 2023. Photo

What will NATO offer in Vilnius?

In the run-up to the summit in Vilnius, one thing is certain: Ukraine will not join NATO next week. Within NATO there is a battle of directions between countries such as Poland and the Baltic States, which would like to see Ukraine join as soon as possible, and the US and Western and Southern European countries, which want to wait until the war is over.

To prevent Vilnius from ending in a great disappointment, a compromise will have to be found. In 2023, the idea is that Ukrainian democracy is so firmly rooted and the Ukrainian armed forces have been modernized to such an extent since the Russian invasion that the country will be able to join the country more quickly after the war, i.e. without a Membership Action Plan.

An important question is when the war will be over. Will a ceasefire suffice, or should Ukraine wait until it has signed a peace agreement with Russia? In the latter case, Russia can block a peace agreement and thus get a veto on Ukraine's accession.

Offering 'security guarantees' to Ukraine as an alternative to full membership also raises questions that are difficult to answer. The term is rather abstract and difficult to make concrete without promising a mechanism similar to the well-known Article 5 of NATO: an attack on one is an attack on all. The European Union is developing security guarantees, but the exact content is still unclear.

The invitation and further accession of Ukraine will strengthen Euro-Atlantic security. Over the course of nearly 1.5 years of full-scale war, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have demonstrated their ability to become a pillar of NATO's eastern flank and significantly deter Russia, defined by the NATO Strategic Concept  as the "most significant and direct threat."

During the full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have achieved a high level of military interoperability and coordination with Alliance members. Reforms are already underway in various areas to fight corruption, strengthen the rule of law, and the invitation of Ukraine to NATO will give further boost to the security and defence sector reforms and improve areas of democratic civilian control within the Armed Forces. 

Societies of NATO member states support Ukraine's accession to NATO. A recent public opinion poll indicates that among those participants who expressed their opinion, 70% of Americans, 56% of French, 53% of Italians, 55% of the Dutch, and 50% of Germans support extending a NATO political invitation for Ukraine already at Vilnius Summit. Meanwhile, Ukraine exhibits record-high support of 82% for NATO membership within the country.

This idea serves as a unifying force for Ukraine, dispelling the myth of a "divided Ukraine" and "pro-Russian regions." Notably, 80% of residents in the South and 72% in the East of Ukraine express support for NATO membership. As an alliance of democracies, NATO cannot disregard the will of its citizens and the citizens of the applicant country.

Ukraine's invitation to join NATO will be an important signal for investors who are considering participating in Ukraine's post-war reconstruction but are concerned about security risks. Ukraine's future membership in NATO will also signal to millions of Ukrainians that it is safe to return to Ukraine, providing a compelling reason for repatriation.

We, therefore, urge NATO member states to make a political commitment to swiftly invite Ukraine to join the Alliance at the summit in Vilnius. Ukrainian civil society will be your partner on the path to membership. 

Signatories of the Appeal:

  1. Center for Civil Liberties, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2022
  2. New Europe Center
  3. European Pravda
  4. Anti Corruption Action Centre
  5. National Interests Advocacy Network ‘ANTS’
  6. International Centre for Ukrainian Victory
  7. Reanimation Package of Reforms Coalition
  8. Centre for Defence Strategies
  9. Razumkov Centre 
  10. Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism"
  11. DEJURE Foundation
  12. Transparency International Ukraine
  13. Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation
  14. International Renaissance Foundation
  15. Ukraine Crisis Media Center
  16. Civil Network OPORA
  17. Human Rights Center ZMINA
  18. Institute for Economic Research and Political Consulting  
  19. NGO "SUVIATO" (The Union of Participants, Veterans, Disabled People of Anti-terrorist operations and Army Actions)
  20. Ukrainian Centre for Nonviolent Communication and Reconciliation "Dignity Space"
  21. New Geopolitics Research Network 
  22. Ukrainian Сenter for Independent Political Research 
  23. CHESNO Movement
  24. Open Dialogue Foundation
  25. Center for Research on the Liberation Movement
  26. The Centre for Global Studies "Strategy XXI"
  27. Charitable Organization "The Black Sea Institute of Strategic Studies"
  28. Regional Center for Human Rights
  29. Centre for Economic Strategy
  30. Agency for Legislative Initiatives
  31. Ukrainian Foundation for Security Studies
  32. NGO Independent Defense Anticorruption Commission
  33. Public organization "All-Ukrainian Forum for Democracy" (DEMFORUM)
  34. Transatlantic Dialogue Center
  35. Ukrainian Association for American Studies
  36. Resource & Analysis Center "Society and Environment" 
  37. National Assembly of People with Disabilities of Ukraine
  38. Centre of Policy and Legal Reforms
  39. Strategic and Security Studies Group
  40. Civil Organization "Centre for International Security"
  41. Ukrainian Foreign Policy Association
  42. Think tank StateWatch (Kyiv-based)
  43. Cedos think tank
  44. Internews Ukraine
  45. Center of Social Initiatives "Prospect"
  46. Ukrainian women lawyers association JurFem
  47. NGO "Veles+"
  48. Partnership for Every Child
  49. Ukrainian Foundation for Public Health
  50. NGO League of Social Workers of Ukraine
  51. Open Policy Foundation
  52. NGO "Parents for Vaccination"
  53. Association of Cinematographers of Ukraine
  54. Regional Press Development Institute 
  55. Centre for Social and Gender Research "New Life"
  56. NGO Euroatlantic course 
  57. Kharkiv Anticorruption Center
  58. Institute for Central European Strategy
  59. Ukrainian Centre for European Policy
  60. DiXi Group
  61. NGO "Promotion of Intercultural Cooperation" (Ukraine Analytica)
  62. School for Policy Analysis NaUKMA
  63. Anti-Corruption Research and Education Centre
  64. Data Journalism Agency (TEXTY)
  65. Bureau of Gender Strategy and Budgeting 
  66. Centre of United Actions
  67. Civil Organization "Institute of Applied Humanitarian Research"(Kharkiv)
  68. VoxUkraine
  69. NGO "New Solutions Center"
  70. NGO "Detector Media"
  71. Analytical Center of the Ukrainian Catholic University

Het origineel van de oproep is te vinden in The European Pravda


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