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Kallas says NATO membership ‘only security guarantee’ for Ukraine but rules out offer while fighting continues

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (FinnishGovernment/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on July 4 said that NATO membership “is the only security guarantee” for Ukraine and said it is important that NATO member countries agree during their upcoming summit in Vilnius on “practical steps” on how Ukraine gets into the alliance.

It is important that during the July 11-12 summit members “go beyond the Bucharest wording,” she said, referring to the 2008 summit declaration that offered Ukraine an opportunity to join the alliance without a concrete timetable.

But she cautioned that membership won’t happen as long as fighting is ongoing.

“Of course, we understand it cannot happen when the war is going on. But we have to have a clear pathway [for] how Ukraine gets there,” she said in an interview with RFE/RL in Tallinn one week ahead of the crucial summit.

During the summit, the alliance is expected to seek ways to provide Ukraine additional security guarantees but stop short of full Ukrainian membership, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has long pushed for.

What the pathway for Ukrainian membership will look like is currently under discussion as officials from the 31 NATO allies currently negotiate the wording of the summit declaration.

According to RFE/RL sources familiar with the topic but barred from speaking on the record, the declaration could say that NATO commits to Ukrainian membership when “consequences” or “conditions allow” and that the topic could be reexamined during the NATO summit in Washington next summer.

Another idea being discussed is based on the Cold War model under which West Germany was in NATO and was covered by the alliance’s mutual defense clause, Article 5, while East Germany was not.

Kallas, however, poured cold water on such a design, saying it would effectively reward Russia for its invasion.

“The end of the war is when Russia goes back to Russia. If we say…you get some territories, then aggression actually pays off,” she said. “It is a very bad signal for international law and also the security of the whole world if [Russian aggression] pays off. That is the most important thing to keep in mind.”

Kallas also reflected on the declaration of the Bucharest summit in 2008, which resulted in Ukraine and Georgia often going hand in hand in pursuing NATO membership.

But at the upcoming summit, Ukraine is set to be represented by Zelenskiy, who will meet with the other heads of state and governments, while Georgia will be represented by its foreign minister and participate in a lower-level meeting with other so-called “partners at risk” such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Moldova.

Asked why this “de-coupling” has occurred, Kallas said the current leadership of Georgia “does not really believe in NATO membership” and pointed to a think-tank event in May in Bratislava in which Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said NATO enlargement was at the root of the war in Ukraine.

“It was the [Bratislava] conference where the prime minister of Georgia was saying that NATO is at fault for the war in Ukraine,” she said, adding that the Georgian leader said this even though NATO is a defense alliance.

“NATO has not done anything. Ukraine has not done anything to really provoke Russia to attack them,” Kallas said, noting that even Wagner mercenary head Yevgeny Prigozhin said that this has been “a false narrative” of the Russian leadership to justify attacking Ukraine.

She compared the situation in Georgia with that of Ukraine during the 2004-05 Orange Revolution that brought a pro-Western government to power after months of demonstrations prompted by a flawed presidential vote.

“I think Georgia is where Ukraine was years ago when they had the Orange Revolution, so that they also widely consider Europe (the EU) as their future. But that also requires reforms on their side,” Kallas said.