Nato refuses to offer Ukraine timeframe on joining – after Zelensky criticises ‘absurd’ delays

Nato’s leaders have refused to offer Ukraine the timetable or clear conditions for eventual membership it has called for – a stance that the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky called “absurd”.

A communique released on on the first afternoon of a two-day summit in Lithuania said that Kyiv would join Nato “when allies agree and conditions are met,” hours after Mr Zelensky sensationally hit out at delays to the process and accusing Nato of handing Russia “motivation” in its invasion of his country.

“It’s unprecedented and absurd when [a] time frame is not set, neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership. While at the same time vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine,” the Ukrainian president said as the summit was beginning and before he arrived as a special guest. He also claimed the group was leaving a “window of opportunity” for Ukraine to be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with its invaders. He expressed his anger at the “vague wording” of a draft agreement he had seen. “Uncertainty is weakness,” he said.

Later, Nato’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that the alliance had taken “key decisions at a critical moment” and that allies have agreed “a strong, united and positive message for Ukraine” as well as a “positive path forward for membership”. Asked about Mr Zelensky’s concerns, Mr Stoltenberg, said that the most important thing now is to ensure that his country wins the war, because “unless Ukraine prevails there is no membership to be discussed at all.”

“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,” he said, adding that previous accessions to Nato had not been accompanied by a timeline. “They are conditions-based, have always been,” he said.

In response to the communique, Mr Zelensky could not hide his disappointment, saying he had hoped the trip would see his “faith” in Nato become “confidence”. He asked: “Is that too much to expect?”

Mr Stoltenberg could not disguise the differences between a number of the 31 Nato members over what Ukraine’s Nato’s pathway looks like. Britain had been pushing for the US and other more hesitant allies like Germany to agree to language designed to signal bolstered support for Ukraine to join the organisation, while a number of Eastern European members have pushed for swift resolution. However, all attendees, including Ukraine, agree the country cannot join during the war – as to do so would risk pulling the group into direct conflict with Russia.

“We fully support Ukraine’s right to choose its own security arrangements. Ukraine’s future is in Nato. We reaffirm the commitment we made at the 2008 Summit in Bucharest that Ukraine will become a member of Nato, and today we recognise that Ukraine’s path to full Euro-Atlantic integration has moved beyond the need for the Membership Action Plan (MAP),” . Dropped the requirement for Ukraine to fulfil a Membership Action Plan effectively removes a hurdle on Kyiv’s way into the alliance. Mr Stoltenberg said this changed the pathway to memership from a two-step process to a one-step process.

The alliance did not specify the conditions Ukraine needs to meet, but they said members would help Kyiv to make progress on military matters as well as on additional democratic and security sector reforms. The US in particular has been keen for Ukraine to make progress against corruption.

Later, speaking to thousands of people – many waving Ukrainian flags – who gathered at rally in central Vilnius, Mr Zelensky’s disappointment was clear, despite more diplomatic language. “I embarked on a trip here [Vilnius] with faith in decisions, with faith in partners, with faith in a strong Nato. In a Nato that does not hesitate, does not waste time and does not look back at any aggressor,” he said.

“And I would like this faith to become confidence – confidence in the decisions that we deserve – all of us deserve, and every warrior, every citizen, every mother, every child expects,” he added. “Is that too much to expect?”

US President Joe Biden has stressed that Nato needd to stay united against the attempts of Russian President Vladimir Putin to split it. “I still think that President Putin thinks the way he succeeds is to break Nato and we’re not going to do that,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Sunak told reporters that the UK, and the Ukranian leadership, recognised Kyiv would not join the nuclear alliance “while they are in the midst of a conflict”.

Mr Sunak said: “I’ve always said that Ukraine’s rightful place is in Nato and that we stand by the language of Bucharest in 2008.

“I think what is important at this summit is that that commitment is reaffirmed and also that there is demonstrable progress towards that goal.”

He also appeared to confirm reports Ukraine would be offered an “Israel-style” security deal, as part of a multi-year plan to defend itself from Russia. Mr Sunak told reporters he was “keen to try and get this over the line”.

“I think it is something that we in the UK have taken a lead on, it is something I’ve spoken a lot to fellow leaders about over the last few months,” he said.

“Those conversations are ongoing so we need to keep having them, but that is the purpose of them.

“It is to demonstrate that long-term commitment from a broad group of countries. It is distinct from the Nato conversation and I think it will send a very strong signal of deterrent to Putin, that he can’t wait people out, in terms of this conflict. I think it is important and valuable.”

Mr Zelensky did secure some wins, as Western nations continued to pledge arms and monetary support to Ukraine’s fight against Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris wouldstart supplying long-range cruise missiles, following a similar announcement by Britain.

With a range of 155 miles (250 km), the missiles nearly triple Ukraine’s previous capabilities, allowing forces to hit Russian troops and supplies deep behind the front lines.

Speaking to CNN, the UK defense secretary, Ben Wallace, said Ukraine has already “successfully” used the UK missiles, known as Storm Shadow. “All I can confirm is it has been used successfully, that is the information I received from the Ukrainians, and I’m pleased it is helping them to defend their country,” Mr Wallace said.

Germany, too, announced new aid worth €700m (£600m), including two Patriot air defence missile launchers, and more tanks and fighting vehicles.

A coalition of 11 nations will also start training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets in August in Denmark, and a training centre will be set up in Romania, officials said on Tuesday on the sidelines of a Nato summit in Lithuania. Kyiv, which has launched a counteroffensive against Russian forces, has repeatedly called for Western countries to supply aircraft and train its pilots to fly them, to successfully counter Moscow’s aerial dominance.

The summit was also buoyed by the prospect of Sweden joining as its newest member after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday abruptly dropped his objections to the move, while pushing to revive talks for Turkey to join the European Union. Finland also attended the summit as a member for the first time after its own entry into the alliance in April.

Moscow, which has disingenuously cited Nato’s eastern expansion as a factor in its decision to invade Ukraine, has criticised the two-day summit – which ends 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,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Veiled threats have become a regular feature of Moscow’s briefings as Western allies have reiterated their support for Ukraine.


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