President Joe Biden said Tuesday this year’s NATO summit represents a “historic moment,” as the security bloc prepares to enlarge while tackling issues around the grinding war in Ukraine.
“This is a historic moment,” Biden said to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “Adding Finland and Sweden to NATO is consequential. And your leadership really matters. And we agree on the language that you propose, relative to the future of Ukraine being able to join NATO.”
Stoltenberg said Tuesday he is “absolutely confident” that Turkey’s parliament will admit a new member, Sweden. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s president continued to push for his nation’s inclusion in the security alliance – a step that NATO members seem unlikely to take at this high-stakes summit in Lithuania’s capital.
“NATO will give Ukraine security,” tweeted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “Ukraine will make the alliance stronger
Allies were debating the wording of a final joint text, but there is consensus that Ukraine joining NATO while Russia’s invasion is ongoing is not under consideration.
Membership in the middle of a war would require the alliance to apply the principle of “an attack on one is an attack on all” enshrined in the bloc’s Article 5 – putting the U.S. and Western nations in direct conflict with Moscow.
Zelenskyy has said he accepts that situation, but shortly before leaders gathered for their meeting Tuesday, he tweeted complaints about what he said were “signals that certain wording is being discussed without Ukraine.”
Zelenskyy, who is expected to attend the summit Wednesday, said “vague wording about ‘conditions’” was being added, while there was no timeframe for inviting Ukraine to join NATO.
“It seems there is no readiness, neither to invite Ukraine to NATO nor to make it a member of the alliance,” Zelenskyy said.
NATO allies in 2008 agreed in principle that Ukraine would join, but did not set up a pathway for Ukraine’s membership.
Stoltenberg said Tuesday in Vilnius that he had put forth a package during an informal NATO foreign ministers meeting in May that included removing the requirement for a membership action plan in Ukraine’s bid.
Some NATO allies, including the U.S., UK and France, are set to come up with proposals to strengthen Ukraine’s armed forces, including its postwar needs, through a series of long-term commitments outside the NATO framework.
The so-called security guarantees are going to be done in “extremely close coordination, given how high the stakes are,” however it will be “different from having an Article 5 agreement to defend Ukraine,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and Americas program at Chatham House, to VOA.
Stoltenberg said Tuesday the NATO summit “is already historic before it has started” after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yielded a breakthrough in a months-long impasse during which Erdogan accused Stockholm of not doing enough to crack down on their branch of a political party that Turkey’s government sees as extremists.
Erdogan pledged to support the approval of Sweden’s bid in Turkey’s parliament, while Hungary, the other remaining NATO member yet to give its approval in a process that must be unanimous, is expected to follow suit.
Political leaders in Washington welcomed the news.
“Putin thought he could divide us, he believed he could bully us into disunity, but his hopes have backfired," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
The Biden administration has supported Turkey’s effort to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets from the United States, a deal that has met opposition from U.S. lawmakers who said it should not go forward until Turkey supported Sweden joining NATO.
Asked Tuesday what made Turkey agree to drop its opposition, Biden said with a smile, “What do you think?” When asked by another reporter if he was surprised by Turkey’s decision, Biden said, “Not at all.”
Sweden and Finland applied jointly for membership last May, with both Nordic nations citing overwhelming popular support for the idea amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland’s membership was finalized in April.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Sweden’s accession would be negative for Russia’s security.
Another key issue at the summit is whether the members can agree on — and then meet — a commitment to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Currently, only seven members fulfill that target.
Several alliance members used the summit to announce new military aid for Ukraine, including a $770 million package from Germany with Patriot missile launchers, battle tanks and ammunition. French President Emmanuel Macron said his government will supply long-range missiles to Ukraine.
Following the two-day summit, Biden heads to Helsinki on Thursday to meet with leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. Once Sweden has joined NATO, all five Nordic countries will be members of the military alliance.
Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.