While London is pushing to 'fast-track' Ukraine's membership in NATO, Washington and many European countries have urged caution and resisted these calls, given especially Kiev is in an active hot war with Russia (which would automatically trigger Article 5), and could be for years to come.
But most of Ukraine's Western backers are at least on board with offering Kiev security guarantees, but which fall short of full membership in the military alliance. A US official who is set to attend the July 11-12 NATO summit in Lithuania is going a step further, saying a membership offer will be on the table, but for a future date with no attached timeline.
US Permanent Representative to NATO Julianne Smith has been cited in Yahoo as saying she is confident NATO "would agree on a text that went beyond a declaration in Bucharest from 2008, which said Ukraine would join the alliance but did not say when or how."
According to her words to reporters, "Most of us feel confident that we are going to be able to come to an agreement that will reflect where we are and that the Ukrainians will believe and feel is something above and beyond restating Bucharest."
2008 was a key moment which Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin officials have repeatedly referenced as putting Moscow and Kiev on a direct path toward war. Below is the relevant section of the Bucharest declaration in full [emphasis ZH]:
NATO welcomes Georgia's and Ukraine's aspirations for membership
At the Bucharest Summit, NATO Allies welcomed Ukraine's and Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership and agreed that these countries will become members of NATO.
They also agreed that both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations and welcomed democratic reforms in Ukraine and Georgia.
The Membership Action Plan (MAP) is the next step for the two countries on their direct way to membership.
Allies made clear that they support Georgia's and Ukraine's applications for MAP. Allies also said NATO will now begin a period of intensive engagement with both countries at high political level to address the questions still outstanding regarding their MAP applications. NATO Foreign Ministers were asked to make a first assessment of progress at their December 2008 meeting.
Meanwhile, Germany and France are leading European powers who have also expressed skepticism and caution over Ukraine's future NATO membership.
And yet Ambassador Smith still sees a likely way forward and "compromise" which may lead to future full membership:
Smith said the text on Ukraine, to be issued as part of a communique at the Vilnius summit, was still under negotiation and she declined to share precise language.
But asked if it could address the question of how Ukraine would join the alliance, she replied: "It could, yes. I think that's possible."
It remains that none of this is going to incentivize either warring side to get serious about dialogue or ceasefire negotiations toward ending the conflict anytime soon. Putin is also likely to take these development as vindication over the invasion, while the West will see greater urgency in fast-tracking its own policies protecting Ukraine with security guarantees.