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Ukraine puts heat on allies as NATO stalls bid for membership

US President Joe Biden has said there is no deal to offer membership to Kiev as his war with Russia rages (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

A frustrated president, Volodymyr Zelensky, launched a furious rally against Ukraine’s NATO allies on Tuesday as they kicked off a summit still unsure how to advance Kiev’s bid.

Zelensky, who will be in Vilnius for the two-day summit, has denounced as “absurd” the reluctance of some NATO leaders to offer a clear timetable for Ukraine to join the alliance.

“Uncertainty is weakness. And I will discuss this openly at the summit,” Zelensky tweeted.

The alliance supports Ukraine in its battle against Russia’s 16-month-old invasion, but several members, most notably US President Joe Biden, oppose giving Ukraine a timetable for joining.

Instead, the Vilnius summit is expected to produce further commitments on arms shipments and a reaffirmation of Ukraine’s eventual place in the alliance once the war is won.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the G7 group of major industrialized economies would offer a support package to put in place once “peace is achieved”.

– Russian “terror” –

Arriving at the talks, President Emmanuel Macron said France would join Britain in supplying long-range cruise missiles to allow Ukraine to strike Russian targets in depth.

But none of this is likely to mollify Zelensky, whose forces have launched a counteroffensive to retake territory occupied by Russia at the cost of accelerating casualties.

“There seems to be no disposition either to invite Ukraine to NATO or to make it a member of the alliance,” he said, citing “signs that certain words are being discussed without Ukraine.”

“This means that a window of opportunity is being left to negotiate Ukraine’s NATO membership in negotiations with Russia. And for Russia, this means motivation to continue its terror.”

But if Russia was encouraged by the tenor of the debate in Vilnius, he did not say so, instead denouncing what he called “the strong anti-Russian character” of the meeting.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that Russia’s security could be at risk from Sweden’s imminent arrival in the alliance and warned France about the delivery of SCALP missiles.

“From our point of view, this decision is a mistake with consequences for the Ukrainian side, because this will, of course, force us to take countermeasures,” Peskov said.

The fury emanating from Moscow and Kiev was in stark contrast to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s message to Ukraine, prompted by Turkey’s decision to lift its veto on Sweden’s membership.

“We will send a clear message, a positive message about the way forward. The text of the statement will be made public in hours,” he declared.

German Patriot missile systems and French fighter jets patrolled the skies as NATO leaders met in the Lithuanian capital.

– No schedule –

While eastern European nations have pushed for an explicit timetable for Kiev to join, the US and Germany are reluctant to go beyond an earlier vote that they will become members one day.

Biden, who will meet with Zelensky on Wednesday, has said there is no deal to offer membership to Kiev while the war with Russia rages, as that could drag NATO directly into the conflict.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that NATO would develop a reform path for Ukraine to undertake, but did not give a “timetable.”

The United States, Britain, France and Germany have been negotiating long-term commitments on arms supplies to reassure Kiev before joining NATO.

These are a far cry from Zelensky’s desire to be under the alliance’s collective defense umbrella, but could reassure him that his nation can continue to hold out.

Drawing up something similar to the US deal with Israel, which would see Washington send $3.8 billion (€3.5 billion) in weapons every year for a decade, is a possibility.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda insisted that only the mutual defense clause of NATO’s Article Five “can provide real security guarantees that would deter Russia from any future aggression.”

In a reminder of the daily threat Ukrainians face, Russia targeted Kiev and the port city of Odesa in another drone strike overnight. There was no immediate information on casualties.

– NATO Review –

Europe’s biggest war since World War II has pushed NATO into the most radical overhaul of its defenses since the end of the Cold War.

Alliance leaders are expected to sign off on new regional plans to protect against any possible Russian attack and agree to strengthen defense spending targets.

“On our side of the fence, we need to up our game of preparation and just keep our eyes open,” Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said.

But letting Ukraine in remains a step too far for some at the moment.

Diplomats have argued over the exact wording of the final communiqué as they seek to convince Ukraine that it is making progress.

In 2008, NATO left Ukraine in a gray area by promising that it would become a member, but did not back it up with any concrete progress.

Kiev’s push to join the Western bloc infuriated Putin and was used as a pretext to justify his war.



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