BUCHAREST (AP) – NATO returns to the scene of one of its most controversial decisions on Tuesday, intending to reiterate its wish that Ukraine – which is currently in the 10th month of a war against Russia – one day join the largest military alliance in the world.
NATO foreign ministers will meet for two days at the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, the Romanian capital. It was there, in April 2008, that US President George W. Bush persuaded his allies to open NATO’s door to Ukraine and Georgia, despite vehement Russian objections.
“NATO welcomes the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO membership. We agreed today that these countries would become members of NATO,” the leaders said in a statement. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was at the top, described it as “a direct threat” to Russia’s security.
About four months later, Russian forces invaded Georgia.
Some experts describe Bucharest’s decision as a massive mistake that left Russia feeling cornered by a seemingly ever-expanding NATO. NATO counters that it does not push countries to join, and that some have applied for membership to seek Russian protection – as Finland and Sweden are currently doing.
More than 14 years later, NATO will this week pledge long-term support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian air, missile and ground attacks – many of which have hit power and electricity grids. other civil infrastructure, depriving millions of people of electricity and heat. .
At a Monday press conference in Bucharest after a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed the importance of investing in defense “as we face our biggest security crisis in a generation”.
“We can’t let Putin win,” he said. “It would show authoritarian leaders around the world that they can achieve their goals using military force – and would make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. It is in our own security interest to support Ukraine.
Stoltenberg noted Russia’s recent bombardment of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, saying Putin is “trying to use winter as a weapon of war against Ukraine” and that “we must be prepared for more attacks”.
North Macedonia and Montenegro have joined the US-led alliance in recent years. With this, Stoltenberg said last week before heading to Bucharest, “we have demonstrated that the door to NATO is open and that it is up to NATO allies and candidate countries to decide on their membership. This is also the message to Ukraine.
This gathering in Bucharest is likely to see NATO make new pledges of non-lethal support to Ukraine: fuel, power generators, medical supplies, winter gear and drone jamming devices.
Individual allies are also likely to announce new supplies of military equipment for Ukraine – primarily the air defense systems that Kyiv is so desperate to protect its skies. NATO as an organization will not offer such supplies, to avoid being drawn into a wider war with nuclear-armed Russia.
But the ministers, as well as their Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, will also look further.
“In the longer term, we will help Ukraine transition from Soviet-era equipment to modern NATO standards, doctrine and training,” Stoltenberg said last week. Not only will this improve the Ukrainian Armed Forces and help them integrate better, but it will also fulfill some of the membership requirements.
That said, Ukraine will not be joining NATO anytime soon. With the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and Russian troops and pro-Moscow separatists holding parts of the south and east, it is unclear what Ukraine’s borders would look like.
Many of the 30 allies believe the focus should now be solely on defeating Russia.
“What we’ve seen in recent months is that President Putin made a big strategic mistake,” Stoltenberg said. “He underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian political leaders.”
But even as economic pressure – high electricity and gas prices, as well as inflation, all exacerbated by war – mounts on many allies, Stoltenberg would not urge Ukraine to start talks. of peace, and indeed NATO and European diplomats say that Putin does not seem willing to come to the table.
“The war will end at some point at the negotiating table,” Stoltenberg said Monday. “But the outcome of these negotiations totally depends on the situation on the battlefield,” adding that “it would be a tragedy for (the) Ukrainian people if President Putin wins.”
The foreign ministers of Bosnia, Georgia and Moldova – three partners that NATO says are under increasing Russian pressure – will also be in Bucharest. Stoltenberg said NATO would “take further steps to help them protect their independence and strengthen their ability to defend themselves.”
Cook reported from Brussels.