NATO’s civilian leader said Monday that the alliance would not give Russia any guarantees that it wouldn’t allow former Soviet allies to join its ranks, asserting that no country outside NATO had a “veto” over membership.
But the alliance will also not provide weapons to Ukraine’s pro-Europe government to help it battle pro-Moscow separatists.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia and so-called Islamic State militants were both responsible for “uncertainty” creeping toward the alliance’s borders.
If Georgia or Ukraine were to apply for membership to NATO, Stoltenberg said, “then we go into the normal processes” of determining whether a prospective member fulfills the standards and adheres to the principles required for membership. That process can take years.
“But this is a relationship between NATO and the country that applies,” Stoltenberg said. “And no third country outside NATO can veto the enlargement of NATO.”
As for supporting Ukraine’s government against Russia and separatists, he indicated that NATO won’t provide the kind of direct military support Kiev has asked for and won’t serve as a venue for developing plans or commitments to provide weapons to Kiev.
NATO’s top diplomats will meet Tuesday to solidify plans for a continuous troop presence in the alliance’s east, where U.S. forces deployed on a continuous rotational basis in April to quell the nerves of allies anxious about Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
Stoltenberg’s remarks came a day after Russia sent another convoy of what it called “humanitarian” aid into eastern Ukraine, where a tenuous cease-fire between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces has been repeatedly violated during a months-long civil war.
Russia has backed moves by the separatists to split from Ukraine, recognizing results of an election held by rebels last month in violation of the cease-fire agreement. NATO has accused Russia of supporting the rebels with high-tech weaponry, materiel and reinforcements from its own ranks, which Moscow denies.