Criticism of NATO by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky infuriated Washington so much that officials briefly considered backtracking on its commitment to eventually invite Kiev to join the military bloc, the Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.
Such a move would be unprecedented for Washington, which has consistently used potential NATO membership to pursue strategic goals in the former Eastern bloc over the past few decades.
On Tuesday, at the height of the much-anticipated NATO summit in Vilnius, Zelensky blasted members of the US-led military bloc, claiming that they were discussing the wording of the communique without Ukraine.
- “It’s unprecedented and absurd when [the] time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership,” he wrote on Twitter, saying that the wording about “conditions” was too vague. “Uncertainty is weakness,” he added.
The final version of NATO’s joint communique said that the bloc’s members “will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met.”
While it did not elaborate, the bloc’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that Kiev could hope to join only if it prevails in its conflict with Moscow.
According to six people familiar with the matter, interviewed by the Post, the White House was quite roiled by Zelensky’s rebuke, with one official describing the US delegation’s reaction as “furious.”
- During an unofficial meeting that followed, some officials reportedly “wanted to withdraw the reference to ‘invitation’” or find another place to put that word. Ultimately, however, the US delegation “did not specifically want to take that promise” out of the declaration, with some people fearing that changes would delay the document’s release and trigger pushback from Kiev, according to the Post.
Zelensky later changed his tune, saying that he was “grateful” to the bloc for its unprecedented support and a “very important package of guarantees.” According to a Bloomberg report on Thursday, the change in tune came after NATO leaders told the Ukrainian president to “cool down.”
- Commenting on the discussions among NATO members over whether to invite Kiev to the bloc, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said that “the US played an important, decisive role in ensuring that the word ‘invitation’ appeared in the text at all,” although he complained that the final wording was framed “not in [a way] that satisfies us.”
Header: Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky stands as NATO leaders set up for a group photo, July 11, 2023 in Vilnius, Lithuania. © Yves Herman – Pool/Getty Images