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Sen. Tillis says war must end to make Ukraine a member of NATO

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. walks to meet the witnesses as the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs hearings to examine recent bank failures and the Federal regulatory response concludes, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, on Capitol Hill, in Washington.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. walks on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, on Capitol Hill, in Washington.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., is supporting a cautious approach in allowing Ukraine to join NATO as Russia continues its war there.

Tillis is the co-chair of the Senate NATO Observer Group. During the NATO summit in Lithuania Tuesday, he said Ukraine's membership should be contingent on democratic reforms and the end of Russian hostilities there.

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

"[The Ukrainian people] need to understand there's a sympathy for that process to move forward, but there are also very specific steps that they continue to take that are very positive signs that they will have that opportunity," Tillis said. "But, right now, all attention needs to be on prosecuting this war."

Tillis did not say what the reforms should be. NATO is expected to provide more details about the process Wednesday.

Critics say making Ukraine's dependent on ending the war only encourages Russia to continue fighting. In a Tweet Tuesday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized NATO for not establishing a more specific timeline for his country to join.

"It’s unprecedented and absurd when [a] time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine's membership," Zelenskyy said. "Uncertainty is weakness."

NATO countries in eastern Europe are pushing for Ukraine's membership to support its counteroffensive against Russia.

Others, including the U.S., worry it could draw the entire organization into the war.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.