US special envoy says Ukraine is not ready to join NATO

In a Ukrainian TV interview on August 26, Kurt Volker, the US special envoy for efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine, said that the country is not yet ready to join NATO. Volker was quoted as saying, "The United States, the EU, and Russia should all understand that Ukraine is an independent country and it is up to Ukraine to determine when it will be ready to join NATO". "But this does not mean that Ukraine is close to receiving an invitation to NATO," he added.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had said two days earlier during an ‘Independence Day’ celebration that the country had one path forward: "Our Ukrainian caravan is on a roll and we have one road to travel upon -- a wide Euro-Atlantic highway, leading to membership in the European Union and NATO”.

Meanwhile, First Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine, head of Ukraine’s mission to NATO Vadym Prystaiko said Russia is blocking the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Donbas, and that Kiev is entitled to use imported lethal weapons to defend Ukrainian sovereignty and integrity. On August 24, US Defense Secretary James Mattis met with the Ukrainian president in Kiev and the talks focused, among other topics, on lethal weapon supplies to Ukraine. In a joint press conference with President Poroshenko, Mattis said, “Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their territory where the fighting is happening”.

Officials at the US Departments of State and Defense have reportedly advised that the US should provide anti-tank missiles and other defensive weapons to raise the costs of the Russian invasion, but President Trump has yet to reach a decision on the matter.

NATO is already providing Ukraine with cybersecurity equipment to help protect government networks after a series of cyberattacks on Ukrainian companies and utilities, including a power facility in 2015 that some researchers have attributed to Russia. In addition, the Petya wiper malware that spread around the world in June has disproportionately affected Ukrainian systems.

The Russian annexation of Crimea and subsequent invasion of Ukraine in 2014 is arguably the largest post-Cold War challenge to European security, especially NATO and the EU. While Russia claims that the conflict is a civil war and the result of a popular uprising, NATO sees it as a conflict manufactured by Moscow to prevent Ukraine's unification into Western security and economic structures. Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and in the Baltics dominated NATO’s 2014 Wales Summit and 2016 Warsaw Summit, but didn’t make it as a formal agenda item for the alliance’s meeting in Brussels in May this year.

The 13-point Minsk peace plan, agreed in February 2015, provides for the "withdrawal of foreign armed formations," and the turning over of control of the Ukrainian-Russian border to Kiev. In exchange, Moscow expects the decentralization of power in the Donbas, local elections and an amnesty for pro-Russian fighters.

For further information on the Minsk process from a NATO perspective, see this March 2017 report from the NATO Defense College.