NATO to Offer Ukraine 'Bridge' to Membership at Washington Summit

NATO will offer Ukraine a new headquarters to manage its military assistance at the upcoming 75th anniversary summit in Washington, officials said, a pledge of the alliance's long-term commitment to the country's security that it was heralded as a “bridge” to Kiev's eventual membership. .

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, along with some Central European nations, fervently hoped that his country would be offered membership negotiations by NATO. at the summit, which will take place July 9-11.

Instead, the alliance will announce that it has agreed to set up a mission in Germany to coordinate long-term aid of all kinds to Ukraine, American and NATO officials said. The move is intended to send a strong signal of allied commitment, both in Kiev and in Moscow, which hopes the West will tire of supporting the war.

Because the mission will be under NATO auspices, it is designed to work even if Donald J. Trump, a harsh critic of the alliance and aid to Ukraine, wins the U.S. presidency in November.

The Biden administration and NATO officials came up with the idea as a way to give Kiev something solid at the summit, although they argue it is not the right time for Ukraine to join.

It's not just the fact that the country is still at war, which could make NATO an active participant in the fighting. President Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Ukraine must implement major reforms to reduce corruption and improve democracy and the rule of law.

The hope is that the mission and the commitment it represents will satisfy Zelensky and lead to a smoother summit than the previous one, a year ago in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he clearly expressed his dissatisfaction when Ukraine was not offered a precise timeline for membership negotiations.

The new mission will bring together under one umbrella the activities of the existing “capability coalition” of countries providing various aspects of military aid to Ukraine, such as air defense, artillery, F-16 fighters, weapons and 'training.

It will also coordinate the training of Ukrainian military personnel in allied countries and long-standing bilateral security agreements, according to U.S. and NATO officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the plan have not yet been announced. term that several countries have signed with Ukraine.

But NATO countries are all on board with establishing the mission, officials said, and it will be announced at the summit.

Aid had previously been given to Ukraine mostly country by country, with less concern about its efficiency or even Kiev's more pressing needs. Gathering essential elements of aid and training under one command is intended to streamline the flow and make it more coherent, officials briefed on the plan said.

Called NATO Security Assistance and Training for Ukraine, or NSATU, the mission will work to reduce duplication and complications resulting from the various types of weapons sent to Ukraine.

One example, U.S. and NATO officials said, is France's recent offer to donate an unspecified number of Mirage fighter jets when Ukraine is already struggling to train pilots and get F-16s into the air. The Mirage, an equally sophisticated aircraft, requires different training, components and maintenance that could strain Ukrainian capabilities.

The mission will be based at a US military facility in Wiesbaden, Germany, and will be led by a three-star general – likely an American – who will report directly to the top US and NATO general in Europe, General Christopher G. Cavoli.

Placing the mission under General Cavoli's NATO umbrella will protect it from any political changes in Washington, said Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who was briefed on the plan.

The new mission will also incorporate an existing U.S. group based in Wiesbaden to manage weapons shipments and personnel training.

And it will run alongside the U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which coordinates arms deliveries from about 50 countries to Ukraine, well beyond NATO’s 32 member states. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, who established the contact group, has insisted that it remain under the U.S. chairmanship for now, officials said.

The group will not be officially called a “mission” because of objections from Germany, which wants to avoid the implication that it and NATO are at war with Russia, Daalder said, even though Russia already considers its invasion of Ukraine a war of “self-defense” against a hostile and ever-expanding NATO.

“It is a Trump-proof effort and a deliberate effort to bring Ukraine and NATO closer together to support Ukraine today as well as in the future,” Daalder said.

The Biden administration has not commented publicly on the details of the plan. But Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said the summit would demonstrate that allies were taking “concrete steps” to bring Ukraine closer together and to ensure it has a “bridge to eventual membership”. At last year's NATO summit, the alliance also refused to offer Ukraine a firm timeline and clear path to membership or to allow membership negotiations to begin. Zelensky was unhappy, but the Alliance's overall position will not change at this summit.

NATO's reluctance to start accession negotiations with Ukraine or to provide a firm timeline for doing so stands in contrast to that of the European Union, which opened accession negotiations with both Ukraine and Moldova on Tuesday.

These negotiations are expected to last several years, but they mark an important and symbolic moment for both countries: Ukraine, which is facing a Russian invasion, and Moldova, which fears it could be next.

Jens Stoltenberg, the outgoing NATO secretary general, spoke vaguely about the plan for the new mission after a meeting of the alliance's defense ministers on June 14. He said in a press conference that it would be announced at the Washington summit and that he would “give our support to Ukraine.” on a more solid foundation for the years to come.”

Calling the new mission “a key outcome of the summit” and a further step “in Ukraine's path towards NATO membership”, he stressed that “these efforts do not make NATO part of the conflict, but will strengthen our support for Ukraine to uphold its right to self-defense.”

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