Analyst: President Zelensky cannot expect a firm commitment on NATO membership before the war ends

Volodymyr Zelensky and Petr Fiala

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Czechia within a tour of several European states aimed at drumming up support for his country’s admission to NATO ahead of next week’s summit in Vilnius. Although Czechia has shown itself to be a staunch ally, there are limits to what it can promise. So did the Ukrainian leader get what he came to Prague for? A question I put to political scientist Jiří Pehe.

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Tomáš Roček,  Czech Radio

“I think he got what he expected, and that is assurances of the Czech Republic’s support for some form of Ukrainian candidacy for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. I think he could not realistically expect that he would get a firm commitment that the Czech Republic, and other countries, will say that Ukraine should become a member of NATO in the foreseeable future. Obviously, that would be possible only after the end of the war in Ukraine.

"But there are other possibilities of cooperation –the joint Ukraine-NATO council, which will be used for consulting, and of course material help which should be significant. But as far as membership of Ukraine in NATO, that will be couched in language that will be a bit nebulous, simply because it is not possible to invite Ukraine to join as long as the war is in full swing.”

Czechia is known to be a staunch supporter of Ukraine, it has sent military help, humanitarian aid and imposed sanctions on Russia. Do you think President Zelinsky is expecting Czech top officials to persuade other members of the EU and NATO to be more positive towards Ukraine?

Volodymyr Zelensky | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

“Yes, I think that could be a role for the Czech Republic, it would be more feasible than trying to sway other big European countries to support Ukraine’s accession to NATO in the near future. But the Czech Republic can certainly use its diplomatic resources and also its current stance in the European Union and NATO, which is pretty good – to talk to other European countries about the need to support Ukraine more and convince them that they should supply for example, arms and provide material help. That, I think is more feasible than any attempt to sway other countries to offer Ukraine early accession to NATO.”

The Ukrainian leader also warned about Russian propaganda, which is influencing public opinion in Europe. How much has it impacted Czechia?

“I think it has had some impact in the Czech Republic, just like in other European countries. The Russians have a very vast propaganda apparatus based not only in Russia but also at Russian embassies and other institutions in Western Europe, and they use it very efficiently.

"So yes, there is some influence of Russian propaganda in the Czech Republic. We can see a number of internet servers, which basically support Russian claims, and some politicians are doing the same. Sometimes it is not done directly, but with the use of traditional Russian or maybe one could say Soviet techniques such as calling for peace. We can remember how it was effectively used in the 80s when there were all kinds of peace groups supporting Soviet claims, and now we see a repetition of that.

"But in general, Czech society is doing quite well in regards to Russian propaganda. Maybe this is because of our own personal experience with Soviet propaganda. Older people especially have a degree of, not perhaps immunity, but an ability to see what is propaganda and what is not.”