This does not respond to Ukraine’s wishes to join immediately, but goes further in achieving them. President Joe Biden is “open” to the plan and told Stoltenberg as much during their discussion in Washington on Tuesday. As NATO’s largest member, US support goes a long way towards lifting the MAP requirement at the alliance’s July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“If this is what America really, really, really wants, they can usually get it through,” said one NATO country official, who like the other seven NATO officials and member states that POLITICO spoke to, was granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive internal deliberations. “This idea put forward by Stoltenberg should hopefully find consensus within the alliance,” another Allied official said.
A NATO official further noted that “there appears to be landing space” within the alliance for the proposal.
Momentum to grease Ukraine’s path to membership began to build in May when French President Emmanuel Macron said Kiev needed security guarantees and indications that it might one day join the NATO. “If we want lasting peace and we want to be credible towards Ukraine, we have to include it in a security architecture,” he told a conference in Slovakia.
His remarks made it clear that France, historically resistant to moves that frayed ties with Russia, was more open to formerly divisive options.
A senior Eastern European diplomat said Friday that the proposal to remove the need for a MAP, “if suggested, is good. We would support. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius also expressed optimism. “There are more and more signs that everyone will be able to agree on this,” he told reporters on Friday, adding, “I would be open to that.”
A diplomat from northern Europe, meanwhile, pointed out that the removal of the MAP “could be” one of many elements of a political package offered to Ukraine in Vilnius, with “probable bilateral security guarantees “, but that “discussions will intensify next week”.
There are, however, stumbling blocks.
Eastern European members want Ukraine to have a clear and imminent path to post-war membership. But some southern Europeans fear that removing the MAP barrier would further anger Russia, potentially intensify the war and make it more difficult to rebuild ties with Moscow after the war.
A number of central and eastern allies are expected to push for an even tougher political gesture towards Ukraine ahead of Vilnius. “This is an important step in the process, but not the only one,” a senior central European diplomat said on Friday.
There is also the problem of Hungary and Turkey, which are “uncomfortable” with Ukraine, which is gradually moving towards membership, said the first official of a country of NATO. “It will not be so simple” in Vilnius.
Still, a number of officials say the alliance is generally open to approach. A senior Western European diplomat said he “hoped” the removal of the MAP would be enough for other allies. Washington, the diplomat said, is “aware of governance challenges” and that “should reassure everyone.”
Another NATO country official said: “There is support for this, but it is still under discussion.”
Calling the chances of a consensus on pulling out of the MAP “likely” after Biden opened up to the plan, the same official said, “Fundamentally, more countries are backing a more active line on Ukraine than the administration did not perhaps initially expect it”.
Some experts do not know what the removal of the MAP obstacle practically does for Ukraine.
“It is only useful if there is a commitment and a timetable for the alternative: Immediate NATO membership after the fighting ends. Otherwise, it just removes a hypothetical obstacle to a future that no one has yet committed to,” said Liana Fix of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Josh Shiffrinson of the Cato Institute also says it makes Ukraine’s current situation more dangerous.
“We are reducing Russia’s reasons for ending the current war, strongly urging it to engage in a preventive war if it looks like NATO is accelerating Ukraine’s membership after the current conflict” , did he declare.
But US and NATO allies officials say the conversation about membership won’t start until Ukraine’s war with Russia is over. At this point, an assessment can be made of Ukrainian sovereignty and the composition of the Kyiv government. The country should still engage in serious democratic reforms, in particular ridding Ukraine of the corruption that has plagued its government for decades.
Stoltenberg reiterated his position on Friday that “all allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of NATO.”
“We are not going to discuss an invitation to the Vilnius summit, but how we can bring Ukraine closer to NATO,” the alliance leader said, “and I am sure we will find a good solution”.
Alexander Ward reported from Washington with contributions by Paul McLeary. Lili Bayer reported from Brussels.