Ukraine’s Progress Towards NATO Membership: Going from Bucharest to Vilnius without Moving

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Publication Date June 2023
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When they met in Bucharest in April 2008, NATO leaders discussed the membership aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine and declared “these countries will become members of NATO”, but gave them no timetable or road map to joining the alliance. Fifteen years later, as NATO leaders prepared to meet in Vilnius on July 11th and 12th 2023, allies seemed to be coalescing around offering Ukraine an undefined closer relationship with NATO, while putting off membership, again, for a future that might never come. In Bucharest, the US was the main cheerleader for incorporating Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance; this time it seemed to be one of the main obstacles – though there were plenty of others. The NATO position gave Russia a de facto veto over Ukraine’s future foreign policy orientation and its accession to the alliance: as long as Russia occupied some Ukrainian territory, refused to make peace and kept the war bubbling with occasional attacks, NATO would continue to say that Ukraine was an unsuitable candidate for immediate membership. US hesitation gave Vladimir Putin hope that one day, with a friendlier president in the White House, the West would stop supporting Ukraine militarily and Kyiv would have no choice but to surrender to him.

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