Wallace would support Ukraine being fast-tracked through Nato accession

The Defence Secretary said Sweden and Finland’s quick progress ‘opened a very fair question’ about whether Kyiv should be given similar treatment.

Patrick Daly
Thursday 29 June 2023 18:36 BST
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he would support Ukraine skipping a step in its path to Nato membership (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he would support Ukraine skipping a step in its path to Nato membership (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

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The Defence Secretary has suggested that Ukraine could “skip” some Nato membership checks to help fast-track the war-torn country’s accession to the defensive alliance.

Ben Wallace said Sweden and Finland’s quick route to joining “opened a very fair question” about whether Kyiv should be given the same treatment as it looks to beat back Russia’s invading forces.

But the Cabinet minister conceded that “other members have a different view” and that, with consensus required around new members, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was unlikely to see a seat created for him around the Nato table at its summit in Vilnius next month.

The comments build on similar sentiments expressed by the Foreign Secretary last week at London’s Ukraine Recovery Conference, with James Cleverly arguing that Ukraine was already delivering on the action plan asked of it by Nato.

I think we should absolutely look at skipping the membership action plan

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

Senior Conservative MP Mr Wallace was speaking alongside Canadian defence minister Anita Anand at Canada House in central London after the pair engaged in bilateral meetings ahead of Canada Day on July 1.

The former Scots Guard, asked at a press briefing whether the Lithuania gathering would see efforts to progress Ukraine’s accession, said Britain had supported Ukraine’s membership since the Bucharest summit in 2008, where the process was started with helping Kyiv to build its Nato capabilities.

“I think it went from an associate member and the next discussion was a membership action plan,” said Mr Wallace.

“Obviously, Sweden and Finland didn’t have any of that and I think that opened a very fair question about should we just skip that at Vilnius and say, subject to other conditions, Ukraine should be able to come in and join.

“After all, they are going to have some of the most experienced land forces in Europe and probably be one of the most heavily-armed countries in Europe.

“I think we should absolutely look at skipping the membership action plan, but of course we have to put some realism in this space, that there are 31 members of Nato now and we have to all move together.

“And, yes, the direction of travel should be towards Nato membership.

“But I can’t promise that at the Vilnius summit you’re going to resolve those 31.

“I think what we could be able to do is remove more barriers for Ukraine so that when this is over Ukraine moves towards more security guarantees and more support.”

Canada’s Ms Anand suggested Ukraine still had hurdles to overcome before it could be welcomed into the alliance, saying that “when the conditions are right, we will support Ukraine’s accession to Nato”.

Sweden and neighbouring Finland dropped their longstanding military neutrality after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and quickly signalled their intention to join Nato.

There had been hopes that Sweden’s application might have been ratified in Vilnius, but Hungary’s parliament’s decision to postpone its ratification looks to have delayed Stockholm’s accession.

Mr Wallace also delivered a withering putdown of Russia’s military leadership during the press conference, comparing defence minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the general staff General Valery Gerasimov to “Laurel and Hardy” for their “failure” on the battlefield.

Mr Wallace was also asked about unconfirmed reports that the fate of several top Russian generals is unclear, having not been seen since the aborted internal revolt led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the mercenary Wagner Group, over the weekend.

Speculation has focused on General Sergei Surovikin, who has links to Mr Prigozhin and has not been seen since the start of the rebellion when he posted a video urging an end to the march on Moscow.

The Defence Secretary said he did not know “what has happened to any of these people”.

He remarked Mr Prigozhin had “gone off to Belarus for a summer holiday” and Wagner had been “dissipated”.

“What I would say is, from the UK point of view, if General Gerasimov and Minister Shoigu are still in charge, the huge amounts of failure they have delivered on the battlefield will no doubt continue,” he said.

“If it means Laurel and Hardy are still running the Russian armed forces and the campaign, then that is to the benefit of the Ukrainians.”

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