President Joe Biden capped what he described as a historic NATO summit with optimistic resolve for Ukraine and a stern warning to Moscow. The two-day meeting in Lithuania’s capital saw renewed support for Ukraine to join the alliance but stopped short of a specific timeline that Ukraine sought.
“We will not waver,” Biden repeated twice as he spoke to a crowd of thousands gathered at Vilnius University, a 4-century-old institution that has weathered the Baltic nation’s occupation by Polish, Russian, Soviet and German forces.
“Our commitment to Ukraine will not weaken,” Biden said. “We will stand for liberty and freedom today, tomorrow and for as long as it takes.”
He also delivered a stern warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Unfortunately, Russia has shown thus far no interest in a diplomatic outcome. Putin still wrongly believes he can outlast Ukraine. He can’t believe it’s their land, their country, their future. And even after all this time, Putin still doubts our staying power. He’s still making a bad bet,” Biden said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday defended Washington’s decision to provide Kyiv with cluster munitions, weapons banned by more than 120 countries for their indiscriminate killing capability, saying it will help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression.
“It’s very simple to criticize cluster munitions,” Zelenskyy said to reporters during his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden. “This decision will help us save us,” he added..
Washington’s decision has created discomfort among some NATO allies, many of whom are signatories of the convention that bans the weapons.
The Ukrainian leader noted that Moscow employs cluster munitions in the battlefield. “I didn’t hear some of you countries criticize Russia,” he said
Biden and Zelenskyy met on the sidelines of the alliance’s summit in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius on Wednesday, where NATO leaders closed their two-day gathering with renewed support for Kyiv to join the alliance but stopped short of any specific commitments or timeline that Zelenskyy has sought.
“Today, we meet as equals. I look forward to the day we meet as allies,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
In its written declaration Tuesday, leaders said they “will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree, and conditions are met.”
Kyiv’s NATO membership in the middle of Russia’s invasion would require allies to apply the principle of “an attack on one is an attack on all” enshrined in the bloc’s Article 5 – putting members in direct conflict with Moscow.
Speaking alongside Zelenskyy, Stoltenberg dismissed new Russian threats on the consequences of supporting Ukraine.
"Of course, guarantees, documents, council meetings are important, but the most urgent task now is to ensure enough weapons for Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and his armed forces," Stoltenberg said.
Moscow swiftly hit back. “It is more important for the West to kill than to protect,” said Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova via Telegram.
While not extending a fast track to membership, NATO is dropping its requirement for Ukraine to fulfill its so-called Membership Action Plan, a list of political, economic and military goals it must meet before joining the alliance.
A day after blasting NATO’s lack of a clear timetable as “absurd,” Zelenskyy appeared more conciliatory and acknowledged concerns that allies do not want to be dragged into direct conflict with Moscow.
“Even during the full-scale war against Russia, Ukraine continues to conduct reform,” he said. “Therefore, we highly appreciate the recognition that Ukraine will not need an action plan on its way to NATO.”
Wednesday’s agenda also features the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, a newly established decision-making body that carries more authority than the previous NATO-Ukraine Commission, which was a consultation-only platform.
G7 declaration on Ukraine
Alongside Zelenskyy, leaders of the Group of Seven wealthiest democracies announced a new framework to provide long-term security and economic support for Ukraine through separate bilateral negotiations.
“Unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion are unacceptable anywhere in the world,” said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who in May hosted a forum to support Ukraine at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima.
Calling the framework “a powerful statement of our commitment to Ukraine,” Biden said G7 allies will “help Ukraine build a strong capable defense across land, air, and sea” to become a “force of stability in the region to deter against any and all threats.”
In a briefing to reporters, National Security Council Senior Director for Europe Amanda Sloat said the multilateral declaration will “send a significant signal to Russia that time is not on its side.”
Biden’s final item before leaving Vilnius is 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.
From Vilnius, Biden traveled to Helsinki to meet with the leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. Now that Sweden will be joining NATO, all five Nordic countries are part of the military alliance.
Misha Komadovsky contributed to this report.