Several NATO members could possibly send troops on the ground in Ukraine if Kyiv doesn’t receive substantial security guarantees at the alliance’s upcoming Vilnius summit, said former secretary general Anders Rasmussen.
“If NATO cannot agree on a clear path forward for Ukraine, there is a clear possibility that some countries individually might take action,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.
He added: “We know that Poland is very engaged in providing concrete assistance to Ukraine. And I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that Poland would engage even stronger in this context on a national basis and be followed by the Baltic states, maybe including the possibility of troops on the ground.”
“I think the Poles would seriously consider going in and assemble a coalition of the willing if Ukraine doesn’t get anything in Vilnius. We shouldn’t underestimate the Polish feelings, the Poles feel that for too long western Europe did not listen to their warnings against the true Russian mentality,” Rasmussen said.
The former NATO chief stressed that Ukraine needed to receive written security guarantees which cover intelligence sharing, joint Ukraine training, enhanced ammunition production, NATO interoperability and a supply of arms sufficient to deter Russia from a further attack.
However, the security guarantees should not overshadow the ultimate goal which is Ukraine’s NATO membership, the alliance’s former chief emphasized.
“Some NATO allies might be in favor of the security guarantees to actually avoid a real discussion on Ukraine’s membership aspirations. They hope that by providing security guarantees, they can avoid this question. I don’t think that is possible. I think the NATO issue will be raised at the summit in Vilnius. I’ve spoken with several eastern European leaders, and there is a group of hardcore, eastern central European allies that want at least a clear path for Ukraine towards NATO membership,” he said.
Rasmussen’s comments come after current Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he expected the summit in Vilnius in July to send a strong signal of support to Ukraine. He repeatedly stressed that NATO needed to “strengthen Ukraine's position in the battlefield to enable them to get an outcome of this war which ensures that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation.”
Regarding Ukraine’s NATO membership, Stoltenberg said on Wednesday: “There are consultations on these issues now to address Ukraine's membership aspirations.. It is too early to pre-empt the outcome of the Vilnius Summit on this issue, but what I can say is that Allies actually agree on many important things related to Ukraine and the path towards NATO membership.”
He added: “The most urgent task now is to ensure that… Ukraine prevails because unless Ukraine is able to continue to exist as a sovereign, independent democratic state in Europe, there is no issue to discuss about membership at all.”
Ukraine, under attack by Russia, is keen to join NATO, but there is a lack of consensus among members regarding the timeline of this process. While Eastern European countries advocate for a road map for Ukraine's inclusion in NATO at the upcoming summit in Vilnius, the US, France, and Germany are more cautious about taking any actions that may escalate tensions with Russia. The decision to invite a country into NATO requires a consensus among all member states. Stoltenberg had expressed support for Ukraine's membership but did not provide a specific timeline, emphasizing that Ukraine cannot join as long as the conflict with Russia continued.
Becoming a NATO member would grant Ukraine the protection of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which declares that an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all allies. However, Article 5 is also cited as a reason why Ukraine cannot join NATO while engaged in a conflict with Russia, as it could potentially draw the alliance into an active war. The Kremlin has expressed concerns about Ukraine joining NATO, viewing it as a threat to Russia's interests and security. Moscow has been critical of NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe, considering it evidence of Western hostility, and has used this as a justification for its military intervention in Ukraine.