BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO leaders are discussing ways to ensure that Ukraine does not come under attack from Russia again once the war is over, but they are concerned about doing anything that might drag the organization into a wider conflict, the head of the military alliance said Monday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seeking “security guarantees” from the 31-nation alliance to ward off any future attack from Ukraine’s neighbor. Some countries are weighing what could be done to avoid a repeat of the war. Russia already annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
“There are consultations that are going on,” ahead of a summit involving U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts in Lithuania on July 11-12, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during an interview with his predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, at a conference in Copenhagen.
Stoltenberg declined to provide details about those talks.
NATO allies benefit from a collective security guarantee — so called Article 5 of the organization’s founding Washington Treaty — which ensures that an attack on any one of their number would be considered an attack on them all.
In the past year, the U.S., U.K., France and Germany committed to provide security guarantees to Finland and Sweden when they applied to join NATO, should it be necessary to dissuade President Vladimir Putin from trying to destabilize the two Nordic neighbors.
Finland has since joined and has Article 5 protection, but Sweden’s accession is pending.
“We don’t know how this war will end, but what we do know is that when it ends it is extremely important that we are able to prevent history from repeating itself,” Stoltenberg said. Beyond the annexation of Crimea, he also noted Russia’s conflict with Georgia in 2008, saying: “This has to stop.”
“The only way to ensure that that stops is partly to ensure that Ukraine has the military strength to deter and defend against further aggression from Russia but also to find some kind of framework to prevent President Putin from continuing to chip away at European security,” Stoltenberg said.
But he said that “if NATO allies, and especially of course the big ones, start to issue security guarantees bilaterally to Ukraine we are very close to Article 5. So, there’s no way to find an easy solution to these issues.”
In February, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called on NATO countries to provide long-term security guarantees for Ukraine. He said they are necessary to shield Ukraine from future Russian aggression and to protect the system of international rules that has helped keep peace since the end of World War II.
NATO as an alliance does not provide weapons to Ukraine — although its members do bilaterally and in smaller groups — and the organization defends only the territory of its member countries as it is wary of being dragged into a wider war with nuclear armed Russia.
Ukraine has applied to join NATO but for that to happen, all 31 current members would have to agree. Most of the allies oppose letting the country in at a time when a war is raging.
Stoltenberg said that he expects NATO leaders to endorse Ukraine’s membership aspirations at their summit and to emphasize that the alliance’s door remains open to European countries that want to join.
But he underlined that there is no point in talking about membership if Ukraine loses the war.
“The most important thing is to be very strong in our support to Ukraine, so Ukraine (can) prevail,” Stoltenberg said.