VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — NATO leaders met on Wednesday to launch a highly symbolic new forum for relations with Ukraine, after pledging to provide the country with more military assistance to fight Russia. , but only vague assurances of future membership.
US President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the new NATO-Ukraine Council, a permanent body where the 31 allies and Ukraine can hold consultations and convene meetings in case of emergency.
The decor is part of NATO’s efforts to bring Ukraine as close as possible to the military alliance without actually joining it. On Tuesday, the leaders said in their statement summarizing the summit’s conclusions that Ukraine will be able to join “when the allies agree and the conditions are met”.
The ambiguous outcome reflects the challenges of reaching consensus among current alliance members as the war continues, and left Zelenskyy disappointed even as he expressed appreciation for military hardware pledged by the industrialized nations of the world. Group of Seven.
Zelenskyy said on Wednesday he was pushing for Ukraine to “receive this invitation when security measures allow.”
“We want to be on the same page with everyone,” he told reporters at the summit.
Ukraine’s future membership was the most divisive and emotionally charged issue at this year’s summit.
“We must stay out of this war but be able to support Ukraine. We have succeeded in this very delicate balancing act over the past 17 months. It is in everyone’s interest that we maintain this balancing act,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Wednesday.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, whose country is on NATO’s eastern flank and has a long troubled history with Russia, said he would have preferred more for Ukraine.
“There will always be a flavor difference in how fast you want to go,” he said. However, Karins added, “in the end what everyone gets, including Ukraine, and what Moscow sees is that we are all very united.”
Although Zelenskyy attended the final day of the Vilnius summit, he strongly criticized what he described as NATO’s “unprecedented and absurd” reluctance to set a deadline for his country’s acceptance into the alliance.
Essentially, Western countries are prepared to continue sending weapons to help Ukraine do the job NATO was designed to do – hold the line against a Russian invasion – but not allow Ukraine to join. its ranks and to benefit from its security during the war.
Zelenskyy said in a speech in a Vilnius city square on Tuesday that he had faith in NATO, but that he “would like that faith to become trust, trust in the decisions that we deserve, all of us, every soldier, every citizen, every mother, every child.
“Is that too much to ask? ” he added.
Amanda Sloat, senior director of European affairs for the US National Security Council, defended the summit’s decisions.
“I agree the release is unprecedented, but I see it in a positive light,” she told reporters on Wednesday. Sloat noted that Ukraine will not need to submit a “membership action plan” as it seeks to join NATO, although she said “there are still governance and security sector that will be needed”. The action plan is a key step in the process which involves advice and assistance for countries wishing to join.
Symbols of support for Ukraine are common around Vilnius, where the country’s blue and yellow flags are hung from buildings and stuck inside windows. A sign curses Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another urged NATO leaders to “accelerate” their aid to Ukraine.
However, there was more caution within the summit itself, particularly from Biden, who explicitly stated that he did not believe Ukraine was ready to join NATO. Some fear that the country’s democracy is unstable and that its corruption remains too deeply rooted.
Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, members are required to defend themselves against attacks, which could quickly draw the United States and other countries into direct combat with Russia.
Defining the end of hostilities is not an easy task. Officials declined to define the goal, which could suggest a negotiated ceasefire or Ukraine reclaiming all occupied territory. Either way, Putin would essentially have a veto over Ukraine’s NATO membership by prolonging the conflict.
Wednesday’s commitments will include a new G7 framework that will ensure Ukraine’s long-term security.
The UK Foreign Office said the G7 would “determine how the allies will support Ukraine over the next few years to end the war and deter and respond to any future attack”. to a “long-term comprehensive security agreement of this type with another country”.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement that support for Ukraine’s “progress towards NATO membership, coupled with formal, multilateral and bilateral agreements and overwhelming support from members of the ‘NATO will send a strong signal to President Putin and bring peace to Europe’. .”
Sloat said the engagements will show Russia “that time is not on its side.”
Although international summits are often tightly scripted, this one has oscillated between conflict and compromise.
At first, the leaders seemed deadlocked over Sweden’s application to join the alliance. However, Turkey unexpectedly agreed to withdraw its objections on Monday, the day before the official start of the summit. The deal has led to bragging of success from leaders eager to show solidarity in Vilnius.
“This summit is already historic before it even started,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Erdogan has not publicly commented on the deal, on Sweden joining, even in a Tuesday meeting with Biden where Biden referred to “the deal you made yesterday.”
However, Erdogan seemed eager to develop his relationship with Biden.
Turkey’s president is seeking advanced US fighter jets and a path to European Union membership. The White House expressed support for both, but publicly insisted the issues were unrelated to Sweden’s NATO membership.
Associated Press writers Karl Ritter and Liudas Dapkus contributed to this report.