At the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Ukraine managed to cancel the membership action plan (MAP), and received new arms packages, a new format of cooperation with the Alliance, and outlines of ‘security guarantees’.
It, however, did not receive an invitation to join NATO.
The results are good but would be perfect if there were an invitation, says Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
"The key factor in the fact that there was no invitation is the cautious position of the United States," Yehor Chernev, head of the delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, told LIGA.net from Vilnius. "They cannot allow promises to be made when the conditions for their implementation are not in place. Those conditions are Ukraine’s victory."
Here’s a recap of the two days of the NATO summit, its key results for Ukraine, and their prospects.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg promised that Ukraine would receive a "positive message" about its future in the Alliance, while announcements of military assistance started to pour in.
But in the middle of the day, Mr Zelenskyy sharply criticised the partners’ indecision, claiming "strange wording" was being discussed without Ukraine, including conditions for an invitation to NATO and no time frame.
Mr Zelenskyy made a last-ditch effort to convince the Allies to rewrite the summit declaration, The Guardian reported.
According to the New York Times, there were disputes over the timeframe at the NATO talks in Vilnius. Some allies said Ukraine was not yet ready, while the states in the former Soviet zone of influence said Kyiv should be invited now or immediately after the ceasefire.
The United States and Germany were the most conservative. Eventually, the cautious formula won out.
Mr Stoltenberg announced that Ukraine would become a NATO member without the MAP, in a one-step process instead of a two-step one, but will receive an invitation "when the Allies agree and the conditions are met". The Annual National Programmes (ANP) should help Ukraine move away from the Soviet army to a NATO-style army, the partners believe.
"A huge struggle has been going on in recent days. The final decision was agreed at the last minute," Oleksii Honcharenko, a Ukrainian MP, told LIGA.net from Vilnius.
The version that had been on the table shortly before the summit did not contain the word ‘invitation’ at all, he said.
Mr Honcharenko believes that great efforts had been made by Eastern European countries, led by the summit’s host, Lithuania, with France, Italy, and the UK also siding with Ukraine.
"But it was the position of Germany and, to a large extent, the United States that made the difference, as they were not ready to make a more ambitious decision," Mr Honcharenko added.
On the second day of the summit, Mr Zelenskyy had bilateral meetings with the NATO secretary general, the leaders of the United States, France, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia. He also participated in the NATO-Ukraine Council.
The meeting with Joe Biden lasted twice as long as planned – and, according to Mr Zelenskyy, "would have lasted even longer" but for the protocol officers.
Another key outcome of the day was the G7 declaration of support for Ukraine.
The document is a framework that includes the provisions of the Kyiv security compact on security arrangements developed by the so-called Rasmussen-Yermak Group chaired by the head of the Ukrainian presidential office and NATO’s former secretary general.
The specifics would be set out in bilateral security agreements with each of the G7 countries, and non-G7 states may join as well.
The arrangements will be in force while Ukraine is not a NATO member and include three elements:
The membership action plan (MAP) was a condition for Ukraine joining NATO since the 2008 Bucharest summit, without any specifics on terms and conditions.
The MAP is sometimes used as a ‘buffer’ to keep NATO candidates at bay, former Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius told LIGA.net earlier.
And now it is gone.
According to Mr Stoltenberg, this will shorten Ukraine's path from two steps to one. Mr Zelenskyy commended the decision as well.
But cancelling the MAP does not mean cancelling reforms.
To join NATO, Ukraine must have a vibrant, healthy democracy, and sustainable democratic institutions – and therefore, there is still some work to be done, the US said.
Ukraine will also have an adapted Annual National Programme, according to the Vilnius summit communiqué. It will address democratic reforms, security sector reforms, and interoperability of the armed forces. Progress on the ANP should be regularly assessed by NATO foreign ministers.
Sceptics say that this could mean Kyiv’s longer path to NATO. Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba also said the path to NATO has become shorter but not faster.
However, Mr Chernev hopes that the new adapted programme will provide Ukraine with a clear list of what it needs to do to join NATO.
"Moreover, much of what we would have to do on our own under the MAP will be taken over by NATO," he added, "The Alliance will bring us up to its level, NATO principles and standards, rearm us at its own expense, and help us with reforms."
Mr Stoltenberg was unable to answer clearly what conditions Ukraine must meet for the Allies to agree to extend an invitation.
This is the maximum that Ukraine’s partners are willing to give during the war, Mr Chernev believes. "But the main thing here is not words but planned concrete actions. And this is Ukraine’s accelerated preparation for accession."
The biggest fear is that such vague wording might leave room for manoeuvre in the event of Ukraine’s negotiations with Russia, making it possible to play the card of Ukraine's future in NATO for the sake of ‘peace’.
However, such a scenario is incompatible with the NATO summit’s declaration, Mr Chernev believes.
"And this means supporting Ukraine’s peace formula, restoring territorial integrity, and punishing war criminals. This is the official position of all of NATO, and there can be no negotiations contrary to it."
Mr Zelenskyy is also confident that "there will be no treachery from [Messrs] Biden and Scholz".
The key factor in Ukraine not receiving the invitation was the cautious stance of the United States, Mr Chernev believes.
"The US is responsible not only for Ukraine, and not even just for the Western world. It is a global power, and it cannot afford to take risks by making promises at a time when the conditions for their realisation are not in place. Those conditions are Ukraine’s victory."
Fears of World War Three also had a role, Mr Honcharenko added.
Another factor at play could have been China, Oleksandr Kraiev, director of the North America programme at the Ukrainian Prism, a think tank, told LIGA.net.
"The United States has been restraining Beijing from military assistance to Russia all year and did not know how China would react to the invitation – perhaps go for an alliance with Russia?"
Ukraine’s next opportunity to receive an invitation to NATO will be in Washington in 2024. Mr Honcharenko thinks that for a successful take, it is first and foremost necessary to work with the United States and Germany.
To succeed in Washington, Ukraine needs to both overcome Russia and overcome itself in terms of reform, Mr Kraiev said. The US presidential election, due in the autumn of 2024, might help as well.
"Ukraine's victory is Mr Biden's victory," he concludes. "His image is inseparable from us and our resistance to Russia’s aggression. At the summit in Washington, this opens a window of opportunity that we must use."