Ukraine must become a member of the alliance at the next NATO summit, but without the areas currently occupied by Russia. This is what the Danish former chief of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen says. It will deter Russia and allow Ukraine to “deploy more troops along the front line.”
Rasmussen says against The Guardian that it is time for a “next step”. “We need a European security structure that puts Ukraine at the heart of NATO.” At the NATO summit in Vilnius this summer, allies were divided on this question. The US and Germany blocked an invitation to Ukraine to join, to the frustration of President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The NATO summit will be held in Washington in July next year, and then the allies cannot leave Ukraine hanging again, Rasmussen believes. Previously, another former NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, also advocated (along with former NATO ambassadors Ivo Daalder and Stefano Stefanini) to invite Ukraine to Washington for membership.
In that proposal, Ukraine would have to promise in exchange for membership that it would only attempt to regain occupied territory (in the long term) through diplomatic channels. Russia should be restrained by the prospect of NATO retaliation for attacks on Ukraine.
At the moment, De Hoop Scheffer (NATO Secretary General from 2004 to 2009) does not see such an opportunity. “Both sides still see an interest in continuing to fight.” This is also evident from the response of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who stated that Ukraine cannot join NATO “because Ukraine is not a country”.
Rasmussen (NATO chief from 2009 to 2014) wants the free part of Ukraine to join as soon as possible, before the war ends. That will help Kiev retake occupied territory, because Russia will no longer be able to launch attacks on targets outside the front line without NATO responding. He sees similarities with previous suggestions for a no-fly zone to be announced over parts of Ukraine. These ideas have never found supporters in Washington and Berlin, the two capitals responsible for most of the support for Ukraine, but also for determining the limits of that support.
De Hoop Scheffer finds it interesting that Rasmussen comes up with such proposals, because he has close ties with Zelensky’s closest advisor, Andriy Yermak. “I would be surprised if Rasmussen came up with such a fairly far-reaching proposal if Ukraine said ‘we don’t worry about that’.”
“In Vilnius there was no consensus that Ukraine should become a member,” De Hoop Scheffer recalls. A meaningless formulation emerged that Kiev can join as soon as there is consensus and the conditions are met. “Now people within NATO are wondering what can be added to that formulation in Vilnius next year.” The Biden administration is particularly concerned, he says, because the NATO summit is taking place just before the US presidential elections. A difficult moment for major new commitments.
According to De Hoop Scheffer, there is still no consensus on Ukrainian accession “at the moment”. This is agreed by Clingendael researcher René Cuperus, who encountered great reservations at a recent transatlantic conference in Prague. For example, there is skepticism about whether Europeans are willing to pay for the defense of such a long border with Russia. “But in Berlin there is also fear that Putin will then test how much the NATO assistance clause is worth, with all the risks that entails.”
Nevertheless, De Hoop Scheffer believes that Rasmussen’s ideas should be seriously discussed. “To date, our fear of escalation has outweighed our confidence in our deterrence.”