“We know it’s possible,” Mr. Zelensky said in his statement, pointing to the recent examples of Finland and Sweden undertaking the accession process. “This is fair,” he added. “This is also fair for Ukraine.”
There is no question that Ukraine would benefit from NATO’s defining credo, which says that “an armed attack” against any member is considered an attack against them all. But, as an alliance predicated on the doctrine of mutual defense, it would be highly unlikely to admit a country ensnared in war.
U.S. officials have said that they will not appease Mr. Putin by quashing Kyiv’s ambition to join the alliance. But Washington and its European allies have also been wary of further antagonizing Russia and risking a wider war, and it remains to be seen how Mr. Putin’s annexation of parts of Ukrainian territory may alter the alliance’s calculus.
France and Germany, among others, have in the past opposed or been skeptical of Ukraine’s inclusion. And analysts say that President Biden, wary of further U.S. military commitments, has also been reluctant to support Ukraine’s membership in the past.
Even if Ukraine could overcome those hurdles, it could face other challenges.
NATO observes an “open-door policy” that says that any European nation that wants to join can do so, if it meets certain requirements. Among them is demonstrating a commitment to democracy, individual liberty and support for the rule of law. While Ukrainian leaders say their country meets that threshold, some American and European officials have argued otherwise.
Experts warned that Ukraine’s NATO membership at the moment seems elusive at best. The process could take at least several months, and even years.
“It will take time,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former NATO secretary general. “Until it happens, Ukraine needs cast-iron security guarantees from its allies.”
Monika Pronczuk in Brussels contributed reporting.