July 12, 2023
VILNIUS – Nato leaders said on Tuesday that Ukraine should be able to join the military alliance at some point in the future but they stopped short of offering Kyiv an immediate invitation, angering Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The leaders were meeting at a summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius as Ukrainian troops struggled to make significant gains in a counter-offensive against the Russian invasion forces occupying parts of the country.
The leaders said in a declaration: “Ukraine’s future is in Nato.”
But they offered no timeline for the process.
“We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met,” the declaration said, without specifying the conditions Ukraine needs to meet.
Nato did drop a requirement for Ukraine to fulfil what is called a Membership Action Plan (MAP), effectively removing a hurdle on Kyiv’s way into the alliance.
Even before the release of the declaration, Mr Zelensky had assailed Nato leaders.
“It’s unprecedented and absurd when a timeframe is not set, neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership,” Mr Zelensky said before arriving in Vilnius as a special guest.
Speaking at a rally in Vilnius on Tuesday, Mr Zelensky voiced disappointment that Ukraine was not invited to join the military alliance.
“Nato will make Ukraine safer, Ukraine will make Nato stronger,” he told the thousands of people, many waving Ukrainian flags.
“I travelled here today with belief in a decision, with belief in partners, with belief in a strong Nato…”
“I would wish for this belief to become a certainty – certainty in decisions that all of us deserve and which our every soldier expects, our every citizen, our every mother, our every child. And is this too big of a wish?“ he asked.
Significant and direct threat
The Nato stance highlighted the divisions among its 31 members over giving a date or a straightforward invitation for Ukraine to join.
Kyiv has been pushing for a swift entry, bound together with security guarantees, since even before Russia unleashed its invasion in February 2022.
Alliance members in eastern Europe have backed Kyiv’s call, 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 the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation into a direct conflict with Russia.
President @ZelenskyyUa speaks in the centre of Vilnius, where the NATO summit is taking place.
"Today, here in Vilnius, there is a battle flag from… pic.twitter.com/Ps4WCzzrtM
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) July 11, 2023
Here in Vilnius 🇱🇹, we see the progress of Europe. People here know what security is and how to achieve it. And they know that security means being together with Ukraine 🇺🇦.
I am grateful to you, Vilnius, and to all Lithuanian cities and communities for every call in support of…
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) July 11, 2023
The Nato declaration said: “We reaffirm our unwavering solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine in the heroic defence of their nation, their land, and our shared values.”
In strong language towards Moscow, it said: “The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”
Asked about Mr Zelensky’s criticism, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference: “There has never been a stronger message from Nato at any time, both when it comes to the political message of the path forward for membership and the concrete support from Nato allies.”
Allies took key decisions at a critical moment for our security. We agreed a package to strengthen #Ukraine & provide a clear path towards #NATO. We also approved our most comprehensive defence plans since the Cold War, backed by an enduring commitment to invest more in defence. pic.twitter.com/WuqeN9by6I
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) July 11, 2023
He said previous accessions to Nato had not been accompanied by a timeline.
“They are conditions-based, have always been,” he said.
Mr Zelensky did score wins elsewhere.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would start supplying long-range cruise missiles, following a similar announcement by Britain.
These will allow Ukrainian forces to hit Russian troops and supplies deep behind the front lines.
Germany announced new aid worth €700 million (S$1.03 billion), including two Patriot air defence missile launchers, and more tanks and fighting vehicles.
The summit was also buoyed by the prospect of Sweden joining Nato as its newest member after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday abruptly dropped his objections to the move, while pushing to revive talks for Turkey to join the European Union.
On the central square of Vilnius, the President of Ukraine Zelensky raised the flag from Bakhmut.
"Ukraine is buying us time at the price of its blood, its lives, so that we can prepare to give a worthy rebuff to Russia," the Lithuanian president said during a concert in support… pic.twitter.com/zYl2zwxwts
— Devana 🇺🇦 (@DevanaUkraine) July 11, 2023
Moscow, which has cited Nato’s eastern expansion as a factor in its decision to invade Ukraine, has criticised the two-day summit ending on Wednesday and warned Europe would be the first to face “catastrophic consequences” should the war escalate.
“Potentially, this issue (of Ukraine joining Nato) is very dangerous for European security… and therefore those who will make the decision must be aware of this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
European leaders did not seem to understand that moving Nato military infrastructure towards Russia’s borders was a mistake, he said.
Tomorrow we will continue our work in Vilnius 🇱🇹.
Our defense is a top priority, and I am grateful to our partners for their willingness to take new steps. More weapons for our warriors, more protection of life for the whole of Ukraine! We will bring new important defense tools…
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) July 11, 2023
At the rally in Vilnius, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda handed Mr Zelensky a bullet-holed Ukrainian flag which had been flown on a Ukrainian tank during battles in Bakhmut.
“Ukraine is buying us time with their blood, so we can prepare and give a strong retort to Russia,” Mr Nauseda told the crowd. REUTERS