Rishi Sunak has said that Ukraine’s “rightful place” is in Nato, as Hungary insisted there can be no discussion of Kyiv’s accession at the alliance’s next summit.
The Prime Minister threw his full support behind the embattled country’s bid to join the military pact at a major gathering of European leaders in Moldova.
Volodymyr Zelensky has said that his nation is “ready” and “waiting” to be accepted. The Ukrainian president has called for a “clear” decision on Kyiv’s future in Nato at July’s meeting in Lithuania.
But Hungary has insisted the accession of a country currently at war “cannot be on the agenda”.
The international alliance agreed in 2008 that Ukraine would eventually be allowed to join.
However, leaders have so far stopped short of taking steps that would lay out a timetable for bringing Kyiv closer to the pact.
If Ukraine is allowed to join the bloc, any attack by Russia would require a collective military response under Article 5 of the Nato treaty.
Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister, wrote on Facebook: “We have to be clear on this: the Nato accession of a country currently at war cannot be on the agenda.”
Time for ‘decisions’ on Kyiv in Nato
Speaking at the second meeting of the European Political Community (EPC) on Thursday, Mr Sunak said that “Ukraine’s rightful place is in Nato”.
But he would not be drawn on a timeframe for Kyiv joining the alliance.
He said he was “proud” of the UK’s record of support, adding: “We want to make sure we put in place security arrangements for Ukraine for the long term, so we send a very strong signal to Vladimir Putin that we are not going anywhere, we are here to stay and we will continue backing Ukraine – not just now, but for years into the future.”
Mr Zelensky has said this year is the time “for decisions” on Kyiv’s future in Nato, warning that “every doubt we show in Europe is a trench that Russia will try to occupy”.
He wrote on Twitter: “In summer – in Vilnius, at the @NATO summit – the clear invitation to membership for Ukraine is needed, and the security guarantees on the way to NATO membership are needed.”
I am always glad to talk with a true friend of Ukraine, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom @RishiSunak, for these are always very meaningful meetings with a powerful result for our common security!
Today, I noted the recent transfer of Storm Shadow long-range missiles to 🇺🇦.… pic.twitter.com/06rEN8YTEz
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) June 1, 2023
It comes as Catherine Colonna, the French foreign minister, has said Nato should consider what kind of security guarantee it could offer Kyiv before it makes any firm promises on accession.
“I have to recall a simple principle of international law, which is that all sovereign states have the right to freely choose their alliances,” she said.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has also said the West must offer Ukraine “tangible and credible” security assurances, somewhere between an Israel-style arrangement and full Nato membership.
Diplomats say proposals being mooted range from guaranteeing weapons supplies to allow Ukraine to protect itself, to providing commitments to help it fight.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said Washington was focused on building up Kyiv’s capacities “so that if and when the current aggression settles Ukraine has the full capacity to deter, and if necessary, defend against future aggression”.
But Mr Zelensky was adamant that Nato accession was the only guarantee of his country’s safety.
“Ukraine is ready to be in Nato. We’re waiting when Nato will be ready to have Ukraine,” he said.
“Recently, a Chinese journalist asked me ‘why Nato?’ and the answer is very simple.
“When there are no security guarantees, there are only war guarantees.
“We need a just peace. That is why every European country that borders Russia, and that does not want Russia to tear them apart, should be a full member of the EU and Nato.
“And there are only two alternatives to this: either an open war or creeping Russian occupation.”
Lt Gen Ben Hodges, a former US Army commander in Europe, has said Europe would be safer with Ukraine in the alliance.
“Russia won’t attack Ukraine once it’s in Nato,” he told the BBC.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, said on Thursday that Ukraine and its allies were still “very far away” from being able to secure peace in the country.
However, he added that any future Western security guarantees to Ukraine need to be different from the status of European Nato members.
“Given the current situation, it is not about establishing a membership,” he said as a news conference at the EPC meeting in Moldova.
“We all have to focus on how we as individuals can support Ukraine.”