NATO leaders set to offer major support package to Ukraine, but membership not currently on the cards

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO leaders will agree next week to help modernize Ukraine’s armed forces, create a new high-level forum for consultations and reaffirm that it will one day join their alliance, said the organization’s top civilian official on Friday. But the war-torn country will not start membership talks anytime soon.

At a two-day summit beginning Tuesday in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, US President Joe Biden and his counterparts will also agree to boost defense spending as allies dump weapons, ammunition and other support as uniforms and medical equipment in Ukraine, 17 months after the start of the war.

They also hope to welcome Sweden as the next member of the world’s largest security organization if they can overcome objections from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, although its membership will not be formalized until the next few months.

“For 500 days, Moscow has sown death and destruction in the heart of Europe, seeking to destroy Ukraine and divide NATO,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday. “At the summit, we will make Ukraine even stronger and define a vision for its future.”

Stoltenberg said the leaders “will agree on a multi-year assistance program to ensure full interoperability between the Ukrainian Armed Forces and NATO.”

A NATO-Ukraine Council – in which crisis talks can take place – will be established. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky will attend the first council meeting in Vilnius on Wednesday

Stoltenberg said the leaders “will reaffirm that Ukraine will become a member of NATO and will unite on how to bring Ukraine closer to its goal.” NATO first promised that Ukraine would join one day in 2008, but little has changed since then.

When asked when or how Ukraine might join, Stoltenberg said “the most important thing now is to make sure Ukraine wins.” The United States, Germany and some other allies consider that Ukraine should not be invited while it is at war, so as not to encourage Russia to widen the conflict.

As Ukraine pleads with its Western partners for more arms and ammunition, and its partners’ national military stocks are depleted, NATO is encouraging the 31 allies to increase their military budgets.

In 2014, NATO allies pledged to move to 2% of GDP for defense by 2024. In Vilnius, they will do 2% as the minimum, but will not set a deadline for achieving that goal, officials said. NATO officials. According to new estimates released on Friday, only 11 of the allies will meet the 2% target in 2023.

But Stoltenberg said good progress is being made. “In 2023, there will be a real increase of 8.3% across European Allies and Canada. This is the biggest increase in decades,” he said, adding that European Allies and Canada will have invested more than $450 billion more since 2014.

Question marks remain over Sweden’s future in NATO. He abandoned a long history of military non-alignment last year to seek protection under the organization’s security umbrella after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Erdogan looks set to steal the show at the top. He accuses Sweden of being too soft on groups Ankara says pose a security threat, including Kurdish militant groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.

Hungary is also delaying the approval of Sweden’s candidacy, but has never clearly expressed its concerns publicly. NATO officials expect Hungary to follow suit once Turkey lifts its objections.

The other 29 allies, Stoltenberg and Sweden, have all said the country has done enough to meet Turkey’s demands. Sweden changed its constitution, modified its anti-terrorism laws and lifted an arms embargo against Turkey, among other concessions.

NATO needs the unanimous approval of all 31 members to expand.

Stoltenberg, Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will hold talks in Vilnius on Monday to try to break the deadlock.

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