NATO will not allow Russia to decide when Ukraine can join the Western alliance, Norway said on Wednesday as it hosted NATO foreign ministers seeking to narrow divisions over Kyiv’s membership bid before a July summit.
“It is for Ukraine and NATO allies to decide when Ukraine becomes a NATO member, it’s not up to Moscow to decide,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt told reporters on the eve of a two-day meeting with her NATO counterparts.
The alliance has not acceded to Ukraine’s request for fast-track membership as Western governments such as the US and Germany are wary of any move that might take the alliance closer to war with Russia.
Kyiv and some of its closest allies in eastern Europe want concrete steps to bring Ukraine closer to membership to be agreed when NATO leaders hold a summit on July 11-12 in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Last week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine would not be able to join while the war with Russia raged but said that would be different when the conflict was over.
NATO agreed in 2008 that Ukraine could eventually join the alliance but leaders have so far stopped short of steps, such as giving Kyiv a membership action plan, that would lay out a timetable for bringing Ukraine closer to the military pact.
Russia is viscerally opposed to Ukraine joining NATO but its invasion of its neighbor triggered a historic policy shift by Finland, which joined NATO in April, reversing seven decades of military non-alignment.
Finland applied to join along with Sweden, whose entry has been held up by Hungary and Turkey, where the re-election of President Tayyip Erdogan at the weekend could bring fresh impetus to Stockholm’s membership bid.
Norway’s Huitfeldt said Sweden should become a full member before NATO’s July summit.
“There is absolutely no reason for holding Sweden back,” she said. “Sweden fulfils all the criteria.”
Progress in Oslo is unlikely, however, as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will not be there.