The move is among changes that aim to safeguard support amid European right-wing surge

By Michael R. Gordon and Daniel Michaels

July 1, 2024

The Wall Street Journal


NATO will station a senior civilian official in Kyiv, among a raft of new measures designed to shore up long-term support for Ukraine that are expected to be announced at a summit in Washington next week, U.S. and alliance officials say.  The steps seek to buttress Ukraine’s prospects to eventually join the alliance without offering it membership. They come amid a right-wing political surge across Europe and the growing possibility that former President Donald Trump could return to the White House and reduce American support for Ukraine.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is also establishing a new command in Wiesbaden, Germany, to coordinate the provision of military equipment to Kyiv and the training of Ukrainian troops.

The operation, to be called NATO Security Assistance and Training for Ukraine, will be staffed by nearly 700 U.S. and other allied personnel from across the 32-country alliance. It will take over much of a mission that has been run by the American military since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The new initiatives have been in development for months, but they take on new urgency following President Biden’s weak performance in his televised debate with Trump on Thursday and Trump’s complaints about the money the U.S. has spent on Ukraine. “A big reason for the change is to Trump-proof the assistance effort to Ukraine,” said Ivo Daalder, who served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2009 to 2013. “Rather than having Washington in charge of managing the training and assistance, NATO will be in charge. So even if the U.S. reduces or withdraws support for the effort, it won’t be eliminated.”

With far-right parties gaining voter support in France, the Netherlands and across the European Union, the institutionalization of NATO’s role could also make military assistance to Ukraine less vulnerable to policy swings among alliance members. “It does provide for durability in the face of potential national political changes, whether it is as the result of elections in the United States, France, the U.K. or even in the European Union,” said Douglas Lute, a retired three-star Army general who served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2013 to 2017.

Current and former U.S. officials said that the steps would enable the alliance to better coordinate Western countries’ efforts to provide Ukraine with military support, in what has become a protracted test of wills between Moscow and the West on NATO’s border. The plan also aims to make Ukraine’s military more like those in NATO.

The NATO summit where the Ukraine initiatives will be highlighted will be attended by all of the alliance’s leaders in Washington, where the alliance’s founding treaty was signed 75 years ago. The aim of that pact was to defend alliance members against threats from Moscow—a mission NATO is assuming again.

Alliance members hope that the summit will also agree on an annual financial pledge of military support to Ukraine, although terms are still under negotiation, NATO diplomats said. Recent discussions among alliance members have included setting a goal of roughly $40 billion annually and increasing the value of many countries’ contributions, though the U.S. would likely continue to be a major donor.

While many NATO members say that the alliance should invite Ukraine to join, initiating a process that could take years, the U.S. and Germany oppose taking such a step at next week’s summit. In an effort to paper over differences within the alliance, officials say, NATO is likely to describe Ukraine’s bid to join NATO as “irreversible,” building on language in an alliance communiqué last year that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO” and a 2008 communiqué that said Ukraine would become a NATO member one day.

Under the initiatives already agreed upon for final approval at the summit, staff from non-U.S. members will work alongside Americans at the new NATO command to align military-equipment donations with Ukraine’s needs and coordinate deliveries. They will also coordinate training for Ukrainian troops, to ensure what is being offered meets Kyiv’s needs. NATO staff won’t themselves do any training, officials said. The shifts are aimed at building institutional momentum and spreading knowledge of the nitty-gritty logistics involved in channeling provisions from dozens of countries to Ukraine’s borders. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last month in Brussels that the changes would put alliance support to Ukraine “on a firmer footing for years to come.”

While the change will broaden NATO involvement, the U.S. will continue to provide most of the staff, which will report to Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli, who serves as NATO’s top commander.   The senior civilian official in Kyiv would focus on Ukraine’s longer-term military- modernization requirements and nonmilitary support, linking to both the planned Wiesbaden command and NATO headquarters in Brussels.  The new steps also signal an important shift in alliance posture. NATO initially kept its distance from Ukraine’s military campaign to avoid accusations it was a party to the conflict. The organizational changes mean it is now prepared to take a more substantial role in helping Kyiv fight Russia. “Since NATO allies have provided over 90% of total security assistance to Ukraine, NATO is the natural place to coordinate assistance to ensure Ukraine is more capable of defending itself now and in the future,” said a senior State Department official.

NATO’s summit comes at a pivotal time in the American political scene. Biden has touted his role in mobilizing the alliance’s support to Ukraine as one of his cardinal foreign-policy accomplishments, as the White House has sought to help Ukrainian forces stand up to Russia’s attack while limiting the risk that the conflict might escalate into a direct U.S.- Russia clash. Biden also said that halting Russian forces in Ukraine is vital to stopping Moscow’s aggression

elsewhere in Europe and even beyond. “I got 50 other nations around the world to support Ukraine, including Japan and South Korea,” Biden said during the Thursday debate. “No major war in Europe has ever been able to be contained just to Europe.”

Trump called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “the greatest salesman ever” for persuading the U.S. to provide military support to Kyiv and said that the conflict there was more of a security problem for European nations than the U.S. “because we have an ocean in between.”

Trump also vowed to negotiate a diplomatic agreement between Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin before he was sworn in as president. Trump didn’t explain what the terms of such a settlement might be, but said that Putin’s demand that Moscow keep four provinces in Eastern Ukraine while Kyiv drop its bid to join NATO was unacceptable.  “I will have that war settled between Putin and Zelensky as president-elect before I take office on January 20,” Trump said.


Daniel Michaels is Brussels Bureau Chief for The Wall Street Journal. He was previously German Business Editor, also overseeing coverage of the European Central Bank. For 15 years before that, he was the Journal’s Aerospace & Aviation Editor for Europe, covering airlines, aviation and aerospace industries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Before that, he covered Central & Eastern Europe for the WSJ, based in Warsaw.  Before joining the Journal, Daniel worked as a management consultant in New York, Warsaw and Moscow.

Michael R. Gordon is a national security correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.  He is the author of “Degrade and Destroy: the Inside Story of the War Against the Islamic State, from Barack Obama to Donald Trump.” He is also the co-author, along with the late Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor, of three definitive histories of U.S. wars in Iraq: “The Endgame,” “Cobra II,” and “The Generals’ War.” He has covered seven wars, and reported on the State Department and the Pentagon. He previously worked for 32 years for the New York Times, where he was posted in Moscow, London and Washington.