Estonian PM: Ukraine's NATO membership is being taken seriously

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Kaja Kallas at the NATO's Vilnius Summit on July 11, 2023.
Kaja Kallas at the NATO's Vilnius Summit on July 11, 2023. Source: Jürgen Randmaa / valitsuse pressiteenistus

Disputes over Ukraine's NATO membership show the issue is being taken seriously by Alliance members, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said on Tuesday, after the final draft of the Vilnius summit's communiqué had been agreed upon.

"It is important to understand the fact that these words are being so hotly debated shows that our Allies are also very serious about these words, that they are not just words, but that they too must actually translate these words into action. And therefore they take it very, very seriously," Kallas told Estonian journalists on Tuesday evening. 

"Of course, I also understand [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy's frustration, because he wants to live in peace, just as we who are in NATO live in peace. But this is how much we can offer now," she added, commenting on Zelenskyy's criticism.

The prime minister said it is not possible to offer Ukraine a time frame for joining NATO because it depends on when the war ends.

"Nobody wants to go directly into the war, nobody wants to extend the Article 5 guarantee when there is a war on. And that is why it is linked to the end of the war, and that is why it cannot be put in writing, because then we would also have to define how the war ends, when the war ends, and we do not really know," she said.

"What we can do to end this war is support Ukraine so that they can organize their own defense so that they can really push the Russians back into their territory — that's what we can do."

Kallas stressed that it is important for Estonia that Ukraine has a practical road map for membership. The words "invitation" and "journey" needed to be included.

"It was also very important for us that there is an annual review by foreign ministers. There is no mention of a specific year, but it is clear that next year, when we have the summit, the foreign ministers will already have to report back. So they have to start this work right away, and all these conditions have to be met in order to see that Ukraine meets these conditions, so that by the time this war is over, there will be this short window of opportunity, just as there was this window of opportunity for us, and then this window of opportunity can be exploited," said the Estonian prime minister.

Foreign minister, MEP disagree on promises made to Ukraine 

Commenting on the communiqué, Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna (Eeesti 200) said the agreement presents Ukraine with concrete steps for becoming a member of NATO.

"The decision to abandon the membership action plan in the process of Ukraine's accession to NATO is a clear sign that we have moved on from the Bucharest decisions in 2008 and that Ukraine is now closer than ever to joining NATO," he said.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna at the NATO Vilnius summit. Source: Jürgen Randmaa / valitsuse pressiteenistus

"On the basis of the decisions that have been taken, we can say that, politically and militarily, NATO is now ready to admit Ukraine when the time is right," the foreign minister said.

But MEP and former Commander of the Estonian Defense Forces Gen. Riho Terras (Isamaa) called the outcome "a serious disappointment".

"We all remember the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, where a group of poets formulated a beautiful text in support of Ukraine and Georgia. After that, Russia attacked Georgia, and a few years later Ukraine. You do not need to be clairvoyant to understand what comes next. Leaving the door ajar without concrete promises means nothing. The sentence: "We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met" is nothing new, but a reiteration of a principle that has always been valid. It is a serious disappointment," Terras said in a written comment.

He emphasized that Ukraine must not be left in a gray zone.

Riho Terras. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"This is a signal to Russia that as long as hostilities continue, Ukraine will not be able to join NATO, which in turn will give Putin an additional motivation to continue the war of attrition — Russia has the cannon fodder," he said.

Terras said the most disturbing thing is that NATO, as a value-based organization, did not find a solution to avoid this situation. It is a disappointment for Ukrainians as well — which is even worse — as they are fighting and sacrificing their lives for NATO allies and members of the European Union.

The Vilnius summit takes place on July 11-12.

This article was updated to add comments from Margus Tsahkna and Riho Terras.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright

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