LONDON — NATO “vacillating” over Ukraine’s admission to the alliance risks pushing it “back into the orbit of Moscow,” former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson charged Friday.
Johnson — a vocal supporter of Ukraine who was ousted from office last year after a host of scandals — accused the organization of ignoring the lessons of history and ducking the chance to send the “right message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the NATO summit in Vilnius this week.
Ukraine had hoped that this year’s NATO gathering would end with a clear declaration from members of the military alliance that it can become a member once its war with Russia ends.
But a communiqué released by allies Tuesday fell short, promising instead NATO will “be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine when allies agree and conditions are met.” Frustration over the process spilled into the open, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying there appeared to be “no readiness” to welcome the country into the bloc despite its battle to repel Russia.
Writing in his weekly Daily Mail column, Johnson took direct aim at NATO’s position, and said no country had “done more or tried harder than Ukraine to demonstrate its fitness for NATO membership” than the U.K.
“All the Alliance needed to do at Vilnius was to set out a timetable – not for instant membership; that makes no sense as long as the war is live – but for membership as soon as victory is won,” Johnson said.
And he asked: “When will we learn the lesson of the last 20 years of handling Putin? It is our very ambiguity, our vacillation, our sucking-and-blowing-at-once, which has prompted him to invade. As long as he thinks there is a chance that he can wrest Ukraine back into the orbit of Moscow – as long as he thinks he can recreate the Soviet Union – he will try.”
Johnson’s successor-but-one, Rishi Sunak, has repeatedly argued that Ukraine’s “rightful place” is in NATO. But he has robustly defended this week’s summit as a success.
“I think that is very clear from today’s summit that people’s view is Ukraine will and should be a member of NATO,” he told reporters Wednesday. “That’s what you’ve heard loud and clear coming out of this summit.”