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Summer outlook: Ukraine's EU and NATO accession progress

Summer outlook: Ukraine's EU and NATO accession progress NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (photo: RBC-Ukraine collage)

Whether negotiations for Ukraine's EU membership will begin this summer and if we can expect major announcements from the NATO summit in Washington — read more in the RBC-Ukraine report.


This summer will be crucial for Ukraine not only in the context of the Russian offensive and events on the frontlines. Significant news is also expected in two key areas of foreign policy: integration into the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance.

While we can confidently anticipate the next serious steps on the path to the EU, Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration in the near future will not show noticeable progress (though practical cooperation with NATO will undoubtedly develop). RBC-Ukraine will detail what will and will not happen in the next three months in the realm of European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

Path to the EU

The decision to start negotiations on Ukraine's EU membership was made by the European Union back in December last year. In March, the European Commission approved the "negotiation framework" draft — a document that will define the order and content of the negotiation process. June has already arrived, but the negotiations have yet to begin.

However, this relatively slow pace is typical of the highly bureaucratized European Union. Several candidate countries ahead of Ukraine on this path had to wait even longer.

The situation is further complicated by the European Parliament elections in June. Clearly, the delay in the process is largely related to this. The topic of Ukraine's accession to the EU is quite sensitive for certain categories of voters in various EU countries, and thus, it is avoided in the run-up to the elections.

It is evident that the final approval of the negotiation framework, the creation of an Intergovernmental Conference (a bilateral body formed by Ukraine and the EU to handle the negotiations), and the formal start of the negotiations will likely occur after June 9, when the European Parliament elections are over.

Western media have even mentioned a specific date — June 25. The fact is that there is a relatively small window of time to open negotiations — between the EP elections and July 1, when Hungary will take over the EU presidency for six months. Budapest is the main skeptic of Ukraine's European integration and may delay any subsequent steps procedurally, leveraging its position as the EU's presiding country.

Even the Hungarians themselves seem interested in ensuring that the next stage of Ukraine's EU accession — the start of negotiations — does not fall under their "tenure." However, according to reports from Western media, Hungary remains the only country blocking the final approval of the negotiation framework, citing Ukraine's alleged failure to meet certain conditions regarding the protection of the Hungarian minority's rights in Transcarpathia.

Nonetheless, an RBC-Ukraine source in European structures assured that Budapest's resistance will eventually be overcome, as has happened before, and the negotiations will be launched by the end of June.

Following this, a very lengthy, complex, and bureaucratic negotiation process will begin, covering more than thirty areas of reform, from education to judicial independence. It is likely that after the formal start of negotiations, some time will pass before they actually commence in earnest, addressing specific "negotiation chapters" — since after the European Parliament elections, a new European Commission will need to be formed and approved.

In any case, completing the negotiations on EU accession within two years, as mentioned by Ukrainian authorities, is unlikely to be realistic, even if Ukraine significantly accelerates the pace of reforms. During the negotiations, Hungary alone will have the right to veto over 70 times and will likely use this leverage to blackmail Brussels and Kyiv. Therefore, the year 2030 appears to be a more realistic target for Ukraine's accession to the EU.

Path to NATO

The centerpiece of Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration is undoubtedly the NATO summit in Washington, scheduled for July 9-11.

Unlike the breakthroughs seen at the Vilnius Summit last year, Kyiv isn't expecting major developments. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy publicly states that Ukraine continues to seek a political invitation to join the Alliance (without immediate membership due to ongoing conflict), but understands it's unrealistic, given opposition from the US and Germany.

An RBC-Ukraine source within the presidential circle explains that Russia interprets a NATO membership invitation as tantamount to full membership, potentially triggering the same "escalation" feared in Berlin and Washington. According to The Telegraph, the US and Germany have even asked Zelenskyy not to raise specific terms of Ukraine's accession during the summit.

Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna mentioned that "the summit will provide clarity on Ukraine's NATO membership, its irreversibility, and the roadmap towards such membership." Meanwhile, US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith stated that the decisions at the Washington summit regarding Ukraine will differ from last year's, offering "new formulations" without specifics.

Therefore, NATO and Ukraine are currently focusing more on practical aspects of cooperation that can assist in countering Russian aggression. Zelenskyy has explicitly stated his expectations from the summit, including at least seven Patriot missile defense systems and US commitments to provide F-16 aircraft to Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has shown the most activity in recent weeks, proposing the creation of a $100 billion special fund to support Ukraine, alongside calls for NATO countries to allocate $40 billion annually to Kyiv and transition aid to Ukraine onto a long-term basis. "I firmly believe that we need a more robust institutional structure to support Ukraine. Short-term, voluntary assistance is good, but in the long run, Ukraine needs more predictable, stronger support," Stoltenberg stated. This includes transferring the role of coordinating military supplies to Ukraine to NATO.

In the immediate future, until the end of the conflict or at least substantial progress towards it, Ukraine's cooperation with NATO will likely focus not on accession but on military assistance from the Alliance.

Previously, RBC-Ukraine explained how authorization to strike Russian territory with American weapons could aid Ukraine on the frontlines.