By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website
Georgia's brief war with Russia has damaged its Nato bid
The conflict between Georgia and Russia in August and the internal debate in Ukraine mean that Nato is in no hurry to see either Ukraine or Georgia join the alliance.
Nato foreign ministers meeting in Brussels this week will restate the principle that they can become members, but in practice they will take few steps to make this happen anytime soon.
The atmosphere surrounding Georgia's membership in particular has changed markedly and Georgia's supporters have been put on the defensive.
Investigations both by journalists and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - which had observers in and around South Ossetia before and during its conflict with Russia - have cast doubt on Georgia's claim that it was simply responding to a Russian invasion.
The result is that the doubts over Georgia's membership of Nato have grown.
Even the Bush administration, Georgia's strongest supporter, appears to accept that it will take a long time.
Ms Rice said there should be no shortcuts to Nato membership
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, after talks in London on Monday with the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband: "Georgia and Ukraine will be members of Nato.
"We believe strongly in Nato's open-door policy, that states that are prepared for Nato membership and can assume the responsibilities therein should be welcomed into the organisation," she said.
"But there is a long road ahead for both Georgia and Ukraine to reach those standards. The United States stands resolutely for those standards, meaning that there should be no shortcuts to membership of Nato."
Ms Rice chose to frame the argument for delay in terms of waiting for Nato standards to be met. But the delay, in reality, is political.
Applicants require a consensus among existing members in order to join and Germany and France, to name but two, would not agree in present circumstances. They regard Georgia as too volatile at the moment.
As for Ukraine, it has not settled on a Nato policy internally.
There is also the issue of Crimea, given to Ukraine by Moscow in the Soviet era and potentially a flashpoint between Ukraine and Russia. Few in Nato would wish to defend Ukraine if it became one.
Britain has suggested a face-saving device. This would bypass the normal "Membership Action Plan" which the foreign ministers were due to have discussed in Brussels.
Mrs Clinton supports the governments of both Georgia and Ukraine
Instead, other less formal measures preparing the way, such as raising the standards of equipment, will be pursued.
This, it is hoped, will enable Nato to say that the goal is being maintained and only the pace of progress is being changed.
Washington is supporting this approach, which it feels might offer a more informal, and potentially easier, track for the two applicants.
Put into the wider context of relations with Russia, the developments represent a victory for the Russians in that membership is being delayed into the future and into the term of a new American administration.
Not that the secretary of state-to-be, Hillary Clinton, is likely to soft-pedal further. She strongly supports the governments of both Georgia and Ukraine.