• Reuters

Zelenskiy to Meet NATO Leaders after Membership Timeline Rebuff

LUDOVIC MARIN/Pool via REUTERS
France’s President Emmanuel Macron reacts next to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as they prepare to pose for a group photo ahead of the social dinner during the NATO summit, at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 11, 2023.

VILNIUS (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy meets NATO leaders on Wednesday after they declared his country’s future lay inside the alliance but rebuffed his call for a timeline to membership.

Zelenskiy will join the NATO leaders on the second day of their summit in Vilnius for an inaugural session of the NATO-Ukraine Council, a body established to upgrade relations between Kyiv and the 31-member transatlantic military alliance.

He will also meet separately with U.S. President Joe Biden as he seeks more arms and ammunition from the United States and other NATO nations to fight the war triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

The United States, Britain, France and Germany are expected to issue assurances to Kyiv of long-term security support in the form of advanced weaponry, training and other military aid, possibly soon after the summit ends, according to officials.

Other countries would then join this framework with their own bilateral commitments, officials say.

At a rally in Vilnius on Tuesday, Zelenskiy expressed disappointment that NATO had not offered a timeline to membership – a prospect he had earlier branded “absurd.”

“NATO will make Ukraine safer, Ukraine will make NATO stronger,” he told a crowd of thousands of people in Vilnius, many waving Ukrainian flags, as snipers stood guard on rooftops.

He pivoted to more emollient language towards NATO allies on Tuesday night.

“Our defense is a top priority, and I am grateful to our partners for their willingness to take new steps,” he wrote on Twitter.

“More weapons for our warriors, more protection of life for the whole of Ukraine! We will bring new important defense tools to Ukraine.”

CONDITIONS FOR MEMBERSHIP

NATO has said Ukraine cannot join its ranks while the war with Russia continues. Its leaders on Tuesday reiterated a 2008 declaration that Ukraine would join NATO but also made clear this would not happen automatically after the war ends.

“We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met,” the leaders said in a written declaration.

The statement indicated NATO would need to see progress on the ability of Ukrainian forces to operate with NATO troops, as well as democratic and security sector reforms.

The NATO stance highlighted the divisions among its members over Kyiv’s membership push.

NATO members in eastern Europe backed Kyiv’s call for a clear and swift route to membership, arguing that bringing Ukraine under NATO’s security umbrella is the best way to deter Russia from attacking again.

Countries such as the United States and Germany have been more cautious, wary of any move that they fear could draw NATO into a direct conflict with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO as a threat to Russia. NATO has insisted it is a defensive alliance with no intention of attacking Russia.

Although it did not get what it wanted on membership at the summit, Ukraine has received new pledges of arms from NATO members.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would supply long-range cruise missiles. Germany announced new aid worth 700 million euros ($770 million), including two Patriot air defense missile launchers, and more tanks and fighting vehicles.

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