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The door is staying shut on Ukraine joining NATO because it would weaken Biden's chances of getting reelected

Cameron Manley   

The door is staying shut on Ukraine joining NATO because it would weaken Biden's chances of getting reelected
  • Biden has rejected Ukraine's NATO membership bid as part of a peace agreement.
  • It would weaken Biden's reelection chances, a foreign policy expert said.

US President Joe Biden appears to have drawn a line beneath Ukraine's bid for NATO membership.

In an interview with Time Magazine this week, the US president said he was not prepared to support the "NATOization of Ukraine," adding that he had witnessed "significant corruption" in Ukraine when he visited as vice president.

"Peace," Biden said, "doesn't mean NATO."

Rather, a part of the condition for peace in Ukraine was building relations with Kyiv, including security guarantees which would lead to a situation "where we supply weapons so they can defend themselves in the future."

Biden said, "Peace looks like making sure Russia never, never, never, never occupies Ukraine."

It comes as a blow to Ukrainian officials who have consistently pushed for a swift entry to NATO after the war's conclusion.

Earlier this week, a report by the Financial Times revealed that Ukraine's lack of progress toward NATO membership was a key issue creating tension in US-Ukrainian relations.

Ukrainian hopes are now pinned on the NATO meeting in Washington, scheduled for July 9-11, to bring a more definite signal for Ukraine's post-war membership.

Biden won't weaken his chances of getting reelected

The US ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, told reporters last month that Kyiv is unlikely to receive a membership invitation at the alliance's July summit, promising to offer a security package as a "bridge" to membership.

This bridge "will be well-lit and made of steel, and we will do everything we can to help our friends from Ukraine, step by step, walk across that bridge to membership eventually."

However, refusing to move forward with an accelerated membership plan leaves Ukraine's hopes for NATO membership in the lurch.

Leo Litra, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Business Insider, "Biden is trying to solidify the idea for the US public that the US is not getting involved so he doesn't weaken his chances of getting reelected."

Referring to Biden's TIME Magazine comments, Litra said, "No one in NATO and especially not in the US, wants to have to test Article 5."

NATO's Article 5 upholds the principle of collective defense and would compel the US and Western nations to commit their military forces to defend Ukraine.

For now, Ukraine has to settle for a range of "security guarantees."

In addition to a G7 Joint Declaration made at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July last year, Ukraine has signed 15 bilateral security agreements with NATO member countries. All the agreements contain various pledges for the current year as well as boilerplate provisions for the duration of the deal.

Stefan Meister, head of the Eastern Europe program at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told BI that the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive last summer was a major wake-up call for the international community.

Meister said these packages will provide Ukraine with "more reliable long-term military and security support by NATO member states."

Some Ukrainian officials believe these guarantees are a "game changer." Just after Ukraine signed a security agreement with the UK in January, Oleksandr Lytvynenko, Ukraine's security council chief, wrote in The Economist, "Agreements on security co-operation are gradually moving Ukraine into the Western security space, without requiring the presence of Western troops on Ukrainian soil."

He added: "Such agreements create the basis for Ukraine's accession to NATO, which was decided on back in 2008 in Bucharest," when NATO welcomed Ukraine's aspirations to join the alliance.

A US State Department spokesperson confirmed to BI that a US-Ukraine security agreement was in the works.

"Our bilateral security arrangements will be focused on supporting Ukraine's defense in Putin's war of choice, building the credible deterrence capabilities of Ukraine's future force, and providing emergency response options in the event of future Russian aggression," the spokesperson said.

One confirmed offer that will come at this year's July summit will be an agreement from NATO to Ukraine to expand cooperation in defence technology and intelligence exchange regarding Russia's electronic warfare capabilities, NATO Assistant Secretary General David van Weel told reporters Tuesday.

However, Meister said that the lack of stable military aid commitments beyond 2024 "reflects the current challenges faced by Ukraine and its allies and divisions within NATO."

He said these packages are a reaction to the situation that there is no agreement among the member states for NATO integration. Each NATO member state has to do "more planning for long-term support for Ukraine" on its own back.

Zelenskyy's office did not respond to a request for comment from BI.

Although there have been strong demonstrations of support for Ukraine from NATO allies, experts warn that these guarantees carry little weight without the promise of full membership.

"Without NATO membership for Ukraine, security guarantees for Ukraine are blatant lies," Canadian analyst Michael MacKay wrote on X. "Keeping Ukraine out of NATO serves the interests of the Russian terrorist state only."

Litra said, "Ukraine relied on a similar 'guarantee' without legal mechanisms under the Budapest Memorandum," Litra said, referring to the 1994 security assurances in which Ukraine was required to hand over its nuclear arsenal in exchange for protection from the United States, the UK, and Russia. "But this Memorandum did nothing to prevent the war."

While Ukraine and some NATO members see these agreements as "instruments to prepare Ukraine for NATO membership in the future," Litra said that "the overall feeling, especially in the US and Germany is that Ukraine's accession to NATO would be an escalation for Russia."

According to Meister, "There is no alternative to NATO integration."

These guarantees are "the second best options Ukraine can get at this moment. They could lead to a NATO integration, but we are still far away from this," Meister said.




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