Despite the inevitable and performative expressions of anger, regret and dismay following this week’s Nato summit, Moscow feels it has reason to be moderately content with its outcome. It has seen Ukraine frustrated in its failure to secure Nato membership – and fractures emerge between Kyiv and the West. Moscow’s contentment, however, may well be misplaced. In fact, the summit’s inconclusiveness when it comes to Ukrainian membership has ensured a range of other initiatives which are rather less comfortable for the Kremlin.
The notion ahead of the summit that Ukraine would be invited to join the alliance before peace had been concluded – essentially forcing the rest of Nato into war – was always a non-starter. But the heavily-negotiated final communique of the summit still allows members to impose a range of as-of -yet-unspecified conditions on Kyiv before it can become part of the club. Likewise, the creation of a new Nato-Ukraine Council is little more than a minor upgrade of an existing body, and gives Kyiv more of a platform at Nato, but no actual power.
So far, so lacklustre. Strong words about the open-ended commitment to Ukraine’s fight, intended to disabuse Vladimir Putin of the hope that he can outlast the West’s willingness to invest in this war will probably have little real impact. Rightly or wrongly, Putin seems convinced that western unity is forever on the verge of fragmentation. Given that his only credible chance of anything approximating a victory in Ukraine depends on this, he has to believe it.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s initial and intemperate response, calling the alliance’s decision ‘unprecedented and absurd’, saying it gave Russia the ‘motivation to continue its terror’ was music to Muscovite ears. Every sign of tension between Kyiv and its western allies is seized on – with a certain desperation – as further sign of a disintegrating relationship.