Putin will escalate the war anyway, so start Ukraine's NATO negotiations now, Lithuanian PM tells Insider

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte and Ukrainian counterpart Denys Shmyhal visit the town of Borodianka in Ukraine's Kyiv region in April 2022.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė and Ukrainian counterpart Denys Shmyhal visit the town of Borodianka in Ukraine's Kyiv region in April 2022.Ukrainian Governmental Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
  • Ukraine applied to join NATO, but some members suggested it should wait until war with Russia ends.

  • Lithuania's prime minister told Insider why she believes NATO-Ukraine negotiations should start immediately.

  • She said Russian threats are not a reason to delay as Russia proved it doesn't need a reason to escalate.

Negotiations for Ukraine to join NATO should begin immediately, Lithuania's prime minister told Insider.

In an interview Thursday, Ingrida Šimonytė said that the frequent argument for not doing so — that Vladimir Putin might escalate his invasion in response — did not stack up.

Putin, she said, had already escalated the conflict repeatedly and did not need an excuse in the actions of his adversaries to do so again.

This week nine of NATO's 30 members, including Lithuania, said they support Ukraine's eventual membership of the alliance.

But NATO's largest members, including the US and other nuclear-armed states like the UK and France, held off signing. A frequent argument is that a move like this could worsen Russia's invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, holds Ukraine’s application for NATO membership in Kyiv on September 30, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, holds Ukraine’s application for NATO membership in Kyiv on September 30, 2022.Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP, File

But, Šimonytė argued, Russia had proven already that its escalations were not rational.

"When we speak about Russia as an escalator in this situation, we must ask ourselves: Is there a need of a real pretext for Russia to escalate? My answer is no," she said.

"I mean, this is a pretext that they most probably would use, but even without this pretext, it doesn't mean that the situation would be that much different."

Doubts about letting Ukraine join

Bulgaria's president said he did not join the nine-country declaration because he thought a decision on Ukrainian membership should only happen after the war with Russia ends.

He noted the "risk of the direct involvement of NATO countries in the war."

Once a country is a full NATO member, all the other members are obliged to respond to an attack on a member as it would to an attack on itself — making a war on one member a war on all of them.

Similarly, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that he thinks Ukraine's application "should be taken up at a different time."

Ukraine troops fire M777 howitzer in Kharkiv
Ukrainian troops fire an M777 howitzer in the Kharkiv Region on July 28, 2022.Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Putin has previously raged at the prospect of NATO growing further, and cited that fear as a reason for invading in February.

But Šimonytė said that Russia was the one who forced countries like hers into NATO, creating the outcome it most feared.

"They were lying all the way about NATO enlargement and saying 'it was you who were pushing NATO boundaries close to Russia.' No — it was because of Russia that countries like mine wanted to join NATO."

"It's not because NATO just came and said 'Hello, we want to be here.'"

Jens Stoltenberg meeting NATO troops
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with soldiers during the NATO exercise 'Cold Response' in Bardufoss, Norway on March 25, 2022.Annika Byrde/Getty Images

A 'moral debt' to Ukraine

How Ukraine would fare in an application is unclear — all 30 existing members have to agree on letting a country join, and the process can take years even for countries who are not actively at war.

Šimonytė said that the decision not to accept Ukraine earlier helped create the current war. NATO's assurances may have deterred Russia had Ukraine been a member, she said.

Irina Kuzkova, 83, stands in her flat at damaged building after latest Russian rocket attack in downtown Kharkiv, Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022
Irina Kuzkova, 83, stands in her flat at damaged building after latest Russian rocket attack in downtown Kharkiv, Ukraine, Monday, September 12, 2022.AP Photo/Andrii Marienko

Ukraine tried to join NATO in 2008, but Russia responded angrily and the process ground to a halt.

Šimonytė said she thought this was a "great mistake" that helped encourage Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, its long war in the Donbas region, and the full-scale war of 2022.

She said that NATO owes "a sort of a moral debt" because of such missteps that demands a fuller response than giving the current military aid and training.

NATO had previously said that Ukraine needed other reforms to be considered for membership — including a much stronger response to corruption.

Šimonytė said she believed starting negotiations would create a "very strong incentive" for any needed reform, saying it worked in her own country, which joined in 2004.

"What I know from my country's experience is that when you have a very clear goal, it is a very big motivation for a country to change."

"What Ukraine has demonstrated is that they are actually capable, very strong and, and very committed to the values that we share as our sort of basis for our coexistence. So why should we deny them a possibility to be part of the club?"

"There is no reason."

Read the original article on Business Insider