PRAGUE (AP) – The heads of nine European NATO members issued a joint statement on Sunday supporting a path towards Ukraine’s membership in the US-led security alliance and calling on all 30 NATO countries to grant military aid to Kyiv strengthen.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took a surprise step on Friday to apply for fast-track NATO membership in response to Russia’s annexation of four regions of Ukraine.
NATO membership must be approved by all 30 members, and Ukraine is unlikely to join any time soon. Being a country already at war makes the request difficult.
The nine NATO countries in central and eastern Europe, fearing Russia could target them next if not stopped in Ukraine, have been pushing for a response to the annexation.
The leaders of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania and Slovakia published a statement on their websites on Sunday, saying: “We support Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion , demanding (that Russia) withdraw immediately from all occupied territories and encourage all allies to significantly increase their military aid to Ukraine.”
It said the leaders “stand firmly behind the decision of the 2008 Bucharest NATO summit on Ukraine’s future membership”. At the 2008 summit, NATO members welcomed Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership aspirations but declined to provide a clear timetable for the two countries’ eventual accession. Sunday’s letter also did not mention a timetable.
When asked Friday about Zelenskyy’s application for accelerated NATO membership, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the application process in Brussels “should start at a different time.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg showed no commitment when asked about Zelenskyy’s call for membership.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council chaired by Putin, scoffed at the move, saying Zelenskyy’s request amounts to “asking NATO to hasten the start of World War III.”
Spurred on by security concerns over the Russian invasion, Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO in May under an accelerated process. Most member countries have already ratified their applications and the two Nordic nations are on track to join in record time.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine