A nine-nation bloc within NATO is preparing to push the alliance to adopt a multi-year plan for arming Ukraine.
Leaders of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and the Slovak Republic – a subgroup within NATO dubbed the “Bucharest Nine” – met in Slovakia on Tuesday. The gathering was in preparation for the upcoming summit of NATO leaders set for Lithuania’s capital Vilnius. The Eastern European leaders plan to lobby other member states to pledge a longer-term commitment to keep Kiev flush with foreign weapons.
“We aim for a more robust, multi–year, and comprehensive support package for Ukraine, which will reinforce its defense capabilities also by implementing NATO standards and increasing interoperability with NATO,” a joint statement said. “We see merit in several Allies’ proposal to establish a Joint Analysis, Training and Education Centre with Ukraine based in Poland.”
The Bucharest Nine will also push the military alliance to outline a clear path to NATO membership for Ukraine, a proposal first floated by Western officials in 2008. “We expect that in Vilnius, we will upgrade our political relations with Ukraine to a new level, and launch a new political track that will lead to Ukraine’s membership in NATO, once conditions allow,” the statement continued. “We will continue our support to Ukraine on this path.”
The debate over Ukraine’s place in NATO has stirred some frustrations within the bloc. Last month, the Washington Post reported the alliance is divided by East and West, with Eastern European members, along with Kiev, seeking a concrete path to membership and a clear timeline for when Ukraine might be permitted to join. However, some Western European states and Washington do not agree and prefer to focus on the war with Russia.
In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, Ukrainian President Zelensky threatened to sit out the Vilnius Summit if he does not see any forward movement on membership. “If we are not given a signal in Vilnius, I believe there is no point for Ukraine to be at this summit,” he said.
It is unclear if the US and its partners in Western Europe will relent to the Bucharest Nine’s demands, however. Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron called on NATO to offer “concrete and tangible security guarantees” to Ukraine. However, he noted that membership was unlikely.
There does appear to be more consensus in the alliance for the multi-year plan to modernize Ukraine’s military with Western weapons and training, with Macron also calling to “build something between the security provided to Israel and a full-fledged membership.” Polish President Andrzej Duda told the Wall Street Journal last month that Western leaders were supportive of developing ties with Kiev similar to the relationship Washington keeps with Tel Aviv.
Israel receives at least $3.3 billion in military aid from the United States every year, and has been granted the status of a “Major Non-NATO Ally,” providing Tel Aviv advance access to American weapons.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered a similar proposal during a speech in Finland on Friday. “America and our allies are helping meet Ukraine’s needs on the current battlefield while developing a force that can deter and defend against aggression for years to come,” he said. “That means helping build a Ukrainian military of the future, with long-term funding, a strong air force centered on modern combat aircraft, an integrated air and missile defense network, advanced tanks and armored vehicles, national capacity to produce ammunition, and the training and support to keep forces and equipment combat-ready.”
The Bucharest Nine additionally took aim at China and urged the NATO bloc to continue to increase its presence in the Indo-Pacific. “Any provision of lethal aid by China to the Russian aggressor would be unacceptable and would only prolong the conflict and deepen global instability,” the group added. “At the NATO Summit in Vilnius we expect to further step up our cooperation also with like–minded countries, and particularly with Indo–Pacific partners and with the EU.”
Paris has recently indicated it is has no interest in ratcheting up tensions between NATO and Beijing. The Financial Times reported on Monday that Macron objects to NATO’s plans to open a liaison office in Japan, arguing the alliance should confine itself to the North Atlantic.