NATO diplomat: Vilnius summit changed leaders' attitudes towards Ukraine

Jüri Luik
Jüri Luik Source: Siim Lõvi / ERR

Last week's top NATO summit in Vilnius changed NATO leaders' views about Ukraine as a future ally, said Estonia's Ambassador to NATO Jüri Luik on Monday. He called the outcome "realistic".

"A very clear red line running through this whole paragraph is that Ukraine will become a member of NATO. One of the important achievements of the meeting is also that this issue was discussed and it became a matter of common understanding between the leaders," said Luik on Vikerradio's "Välistund".

He highlighted the previously skeptical views of top U.S. officials who doubted Ukraine's membership perspective and said, that after Vilnius, discussions about whether the country will or will not become a NATO member will no longer be held.

"I think it brought about a change in psychology, in the perception of the heads of state. My assessment is that we are on the right track," Luik, a former defense minister, emphasized.

The ambassador said the question of Ukraine's future NATO membership has largely arisen over the last month. "We saw how skeptical and worried people used to be," he added.

Lithuanian and NATO flags flying in Vilnius. Source: Jürgen Randma/riigikantselei

The members' views still differ, but they are now moving towards consensus, the official said.

"Step by step we are moving forward in this direction — today it is being written about by think tanks and journalists, it is being talked about by members of the US Congress — Ukraine's membership of NATO is becoming a natural subject," he said, describing the atmosphere.

The thoroughness of the discussion and its slow progress is due to the fact member states are talking about the post-war European security order, Luik said. This includes security guarantees provided by the U.S., including the provision of nuclear guarantees.

He also recalled that previous communiqués were "exceptionally vague" on the subject of Estonia, Latvia, and Lituania joining the alliance.

"But in 2002, when the moment was right, it seemed to be a natural decision for everyone," Luik said.

NATO leaders in Vilnius. Source: Jürgen Randma/riigikantselei

The diplomat said Vilnius' communiqué states Ukraine's future is in NATO and listed three main promises given to Ukraine in the finalized version.

Firstly, NATO promised to provide non-lethal aid, while member states can provide weapons from their own stocks.

Secondly, the NATO-Ukraine Council was formed, which gives Ukraine equal status at the table.

Thirdly, the communiqué outlines conditions for Ukraine's accession to NATO. Luik said this was the most difficult part to create because the Allies' positions were "very erratic — there were those who didn't think it should be dealt with at all".

"I think these are good results. Could they have been better? If Estonia had been able to write all the documents — certainly," he added but emphasized that the communique had to be approved by all member states.

Jüri Luik, Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Luik also said that, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was initially very critical on the first day, on the second he was calmer. Other Ukrainian diplomats and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba acted the same way.

"It is very easy to move forward from this basis and it will give the Ukrainians a peaceful way forward once the war is over. The reforms that need to be made can also be made during the war — they concern legislation, democracy, the civilian management of the army, etc. I believe that there can be nothing overwhelming here. It will be shorter and simpler than achieving EU membership," said Luik.

Approved regional defense plans speed up rapid response process

Speaking about Estonia's priorities at the summit, he highlighted the approval of regional defense plans.

The diplomat said only Russia's full-scale aggression in Ukraine made the Allies fully understand why it is necessary to create such plans. While the idea was agreed in principle at the summit in 2022, it has now been included in official documents.

"This is a crucial issue for us," emphasized Luik. The plans include troops, staff operations, chain of command, legal issues, essentially a series of steps that give the military more clarity and outline how it can carry out defense activities.

AS-90 self-propelled gun in Royal Artillery (UK) service, on exercise at the Central Training Area in Harju County. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

"I can't go into the details, but one thing that runs through all of them is the speed of response and the automation that is particularly important for us. That has been pretty much addressed and the Allies understand that. I believe we are on the right track," he stressed.

Speaking about the stationing of permanent brigades in the Baltics, which Lithuania and Latvia have pushed for while Estonia has not, Luik said it was agreed last year at the Madrid summit that not every country in the eastern flank would host one.

"Estonia's concept is based on the assumption that in the case of a permanent brigade, a large part of defense expenditure would be spent on building barracks, warehouses, etc. Our concept focuses on the fact that instead of pouring something concrete, we will buy additional armaments, air defense, missiles, etc.," he said and pointed out that this has been the argument given by the Estonian Defense Forces' expert assessments.

Estonia and the UK's cooperation is based on rapid response. The UK has assigned a battalion to Estonia, which regularly trains in Estonia, but is positioned in the UK on high alert. There are also military from other NATO nations in Estonia, Luik said.

"We have enough forces here," he noted.

The ambassador also pointed out, that in the event of a rapid response, it is important that weapons and equipment are already in Estonia. The extra troops can be flown in.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright

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