By: CHRIS MEGERIAN, LORN COOK, and SUN MIN KIM (Associated Press)
VILNIUS, Lithuania (FloridaToday.news) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday welcomed new pledges to provide weapons and ammunition to fight the Russian invasion, as well as the West’s long-term security commitments, even as he expressed frustration at the lack of a clear path for his countries to join NATO when the alliance completed its annual summit.
“The Ukrainian delegation is bringing home a significant security victory for Ukraine, for our country, for our people, for our children,” he said, accompanied by U.S. President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders of the most powerful democracies.
The joint declaration published by the G7 lays the groundwork for each country to conclude agreements that will help Ukraine strengthen its armed forces in the long term. Zelenskiy called the initiative a bridge to eventual NATO membership and a deterrent against Russia.
“We will not hesitate,” Biden promised after the summit in Lithuania ended. “I mean that. Our commitment to Ukraine will not weaken. We will stand for freedom today, tomorrow, and for as long as it takes.”
The Ukrainian and US presidents have also met privately with their advisers, and Biden acknowledged that Zelenskiy sometimes gets “frustrated” by the pace of military aid.
Zelenskiy thanked Biden, saying “you’re spending this money on our lives” and said that deliveries of the controversial cluster munitions would help Ukraine fight Russia.
It was a marked change in tone from Zelenskiy’s complaints a day earlier, when he said it was “unprecedented and absurd” not to set a timeline for Ukraine’s entry into NATO.
Biden said Zelenskiy now understands that his country’s formal NATO membership “doesn’t matter as long as he has commitments” such as security guarantees. So he doesn’t care now.
On the final day of the NATO summit, the alliance launched a new forum to deepen ties with Ukraine: the NATO-Ukraine Council. It is intended to serve as a permanent body where the 31 members of the alliance and Ukraine can consult and convene meetings in emergency situations.
The setting is part of NATO’s efforts to bring Ukraine as close as possible to the military alliance without actually joining it. On Tuesday, the leaders said in a communiqué summarizing the conclusions of the summit that Ukraine could join “when allies agree and conditions are met.”
“Today we meet on equal terms,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference with Zelensky. “I look forward to the day we meet as allies.”
Ukraine’s controversial plan for future membership reflects the difficulty of achieving consensus among current members of the alliance while the war continues.
“The results of the summit are good, but if there was an invitation, it would be ideal,” Zelensky said through an interpreter. He added that joining NATO would be “a major motivating factor for Ukrainian society” as it resists Russia.
“We need NATO as much as we need NATO,” he said along with Stoltenberg.
The future membership of Ukraine was the most contentious and emotional issue at this year’s summit. In essence, Western countries are willing to keep sending weapons to help Ukraine do the job that NATO was created to do—hold a defense against a Russian invasion—but prevent Ukraine from joining its ranks and taking advantage of its security in times of war.
“We must stay out of this war, but be able to support Ukraine. We have managed this very delicate balancing act for the last 17 months. We maintain this balance for the benefit of all,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre De Croo.
Symbols of Ukraine’s support are spread around Vilnius, where the country’s blue-and-yellow flags hang from buildings and are pasted into windows. One sign cursed Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another urged NATO leaders to “hurry up” with assistance to Ukraine.
However, caution was voiced within the summit itself, especially from Biden, who bluntly stated that he did not think Ukraine was ready to join NATO. There are fears that the country’s democracy is unstable and corruption is too deeply rooted.
Under Article 5 of NATO’s charter, members are required to protect each other from attacks that could quickly draw the US and other countries into direct war with Russia.
Defining a cessation of hostilities is not an easy task. Officials declined to define a goal, which could mean a negotiated ceasefire or Ukraine’s return of all occupied territory. Either way, Putin would essentially have a veto over Ukraine’s NATO membership, prolonging the conflict.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace warned on Wednesday of growing frustration with Zelenskiy’s demands, adding that “people want to see gratitude” for the West’s military support. Wallace also said he heard “grunts” from some US lawmakers that “we are not Amazon.”
“I mean it’s true,” Wallace said, according to multiple British media outlets. He recalled saying the same thing to Ukrainians when he visited the country last year and received a list of requests for weapons. “I’m not an Amazon.”
At the same time, the new G7 structure will include a long-term commitment to Ukraine’s security.
To repel the Russian attack, the major powers are promising “rapid and continuous security assistance, modern military equipment on land, at sea and in the air, and economic assistance.” They also promise to introduce new sanctions against Russia.
According to them, now and in the future they will provide weapons and military equipment, including combat aircraft, as well as provide additional training to the beleaguered Ukrainian army. Zelensky asked that these assurances be valid at least until Ukraine joins NATO.
Moscow reacted harshly to the G7 plan.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the summit cemented Ukraine’s “primary expendable role” in the “hybrid war” it falsely claims NATO has unleashed against Russia.
“Having set a course for escalation, they issued a new batch of promises to supply the Kyiv regime with more and more modern and long-range weapons in order to drag out the conflict to attrition as long as possible,” the ministry said in a statement. statement.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “by providing security guarantees to Ukraine, they encroach on the security of Russia.”
Ukraine has failed in the past because of security guarantees. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Russia, the US and Britain agreed that “none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence” in exchange for Kiev handing over its Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Russia.
But in 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula and seized territory in the south and east. In 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion in an attempt to overthrow Kyiv, leading to the current bloody conflict.
Zelenskiy told reporters that the Budapest Memorandum would not help without NATO membership and a mutual defense agreement.
“In fact, Ukraine remained with this document and defended itself alone,” he said.
Although international summits often follow a hard line, this summit in Vilnius teetered between conflict and compromise.
At first, the leaders seemed to be deadlocked by Sweden’s bid for membership in the alliance. However, Turkey surprisingly agreed to drop its objections on Monday, ahead of the official start of the summit.
Associated Press correspondents Carl Ritter and Ludas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania; Joanna Kozlowska and Jill Lawless in London; and Darlene Superville of Washington contributed to this report.