The State Department on Tuesday defended NATO’s hesitation to invite Ukraine into the alliance, even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy voiced his frustration with how the negotiations have unfolded.
State Department press secretary Matthew Miller spoke to reporters on Tuesday from the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where NATO’s two-day summit is being held this week. Miller cited several conditions that NATO had decided Ukraine must meet for an invitation to the alliance, including democratic reforms and the end of the war between Russia and Ukraine.
“We are ready to extend an invitation when conditions are met,” Miller said. “There is an important reason why they are not becoming a member of NATO right now — because it would instantly put the United States in a shooting war with Russia.”
Miller echoed the sentiment of President Joe Biden, who told CNN on Sunday that Ukraine could not be admitted into the alliance until the war with Russia had ended, adding that “if the war is going on, then we’re all in war.”
The U.S. has doubled down this week on military support of Ukraine in its war with Russia, agreeing to include controversial cluster munitions in its next arms package to Kyiv — a decision that Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikov said would be a “game changer” as the Ukrainian counteroffensive struggles to breach Russia’s front lines.
In a summit communiqué released Tuesday, NATO leaders wrote that the alliance could not promise Ukraine membership until the war had ended and several democratic and security-sector reforms had been achieved.
“We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met,” the leaders wrote.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Zelenskyy took issue with NATO’s reluctance to commit to admitting his country, and its unwillingness to provide an anticipated timeline for Ukraine’s entry. He wrote that he did not see sufficient readiness on the part of NATO to integrate Ukraine into the alliance.
“It’s unprecedented and absurd when time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership,” Zelenskyy wrote. “While at the same time vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine.”
Miller pointed to reforms around “anticorruption” and “strengthening democracy” that were necessary for Ukraine’s entry to NATO but declined to detail what the specific conditions were in full. During his Tuesday press conference, Miller said that members of NATO stood ready to help Ukraine meet the necessary conditions for its acceptance to the alliance.
“One of the things Russia said before this war began is that they were firmly opposed to Ukraine joining NATO, and they wanted an ironclad commitment that Ukraine would never join NATO,” Miller said. “And we made clear that was not on the table, that we maintained NATO’s open-door policy. We reiterate that commitment today, and we made clear today that Ukraine will become a member of NATO.”