NATO leaders are set to meet Wednesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they close a summit in Lithuania’s capital that has included emphasis on supporting Ukraine in its fight against a Russian invasion and discussion of Ukraine’s future within the alliance.
"We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met," NATO leaders said in a written declaration, reiterating their position supporting Ukraine’s membership but stopping short of any specific commitments or timeline that Zelenskyy has sought.
Wednesday’s agenda features the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, and Zelenskyy is also set to hold separate talks with U.S. President Joe Biden.
The U.S. leader is scheduled to deliver an address “highlighting how the United States, alongside our allies and partners, are supporting Ukraine, defending democratic values, and taking action to address global challenges,” the White House said.
Britain said members of the G-7 group of nations planned to announce a new framework for allies providing long-term security support for Ukraine.
Biden said Tuesday the NATO summit represents a “historic moment,” as the security bloc prepares to enlarge while tackling issues around the grinding war in Ukraine.
“Adding Finland and Sweden to NATO is consequential,” Biden said to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “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.
At the same time, Zelenskyy continues 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.”
Membership in the middle of a war would require NATO 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.”
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.
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 including 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.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.