By Sabine Siebold
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO foreign ministers will seek to narrow divisions over Ukraine’s membership bid at a meeting in Oslo this week, with allies at odds over calls to grant Kyiv a road map to accession at their July summit.
NATO has not acceded to Ukraine’s request for fast-track membership as Western governments such as the U.S. and Germany are wary of moves that they fear could take the alliance closer to entering an active war with Russia.
However, both Kyiv and some of its closest allies in eastern Europe have been pushing for NATO to at least take concrete steps to bring Ukraine closer to membership at the alliance’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11-12.
“It would be very sad if in any way anyone could read the outcome of the Vilnius summit as a victory of Russia in precluding Ukraine to join NATO one day,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said on Friday.
Last week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made it clear that Ukraine will not be able to join the alliance as long as the war against Russia continues.
“To become a member in the midst of a war is not on the agenda,” he said. “The issue is what happens when the war ends.”
NATO agreed at its 2008 summit in Bucharest that Ukraine will join eventually.
However, leaders have since stopped short of steps such as giving Kyiv a membership action plan that would lay out a timetable for bringing the country closer to NATO.
On the sidelines of their Oslo meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, foreign ministers are also expected to touch on the search for a new NATO chief, with Stoltenberg due to step down in September.
Meanwhile, President Tayyip Erdogan’s election victory in Turkey has brought fresh momentum to efforts to break a deadlock over the ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership, held up by objections from Turkey and Hungary.
Any progress in Oslo is unlikely, however, as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will not be there, Sweden said, although talks between him and Sweden’s Tobias Billstrom will nevertheless take place “soon”.
Photo – Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt irons the NATO flag at Town Hall in Oslo, Norway, prior of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting on 31 May. This week, 31 NATO foreign ministers and the Swedish foreign minister will meet in Oslo for informal talks ahead of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in July. EPA-EFE/Ole Berg-Rusten