At the NATO Summit in Vilnius in Lithuania, Biden acknowledged that the alliance did not invite Ukraine to membership during the summit as it works on "necessary reforms," but, "We're not waiting on that process to be finished to boost the country's security," he said.
"Mr. Zelensky and I talked about the kind of guarantees we could make in the meantime… And so today, the long-term commitments we're making are backed up by the notion that in the meantime, we're going to provide security to Ukraine for its needs and against any aggression that may occur," the POTUS said a day after Zelensky decried NATO's "absurd" refusal to offer an invite or timetable for Ukraine's entry into the alliance. (Related: Classified military documents detailing US-NATO plans in Ukraine leak online.)
Ukraine has been pushing for rapid NATO membership while fighting a Russian invasion unleashed in February 2022. Instead, a declaration by the G7 world's most industrialized countries "will set out how allies will support Ukraine over the coming years to end the war and deter and respond to any future attack," said a British government statement.
The Ukrainian president may be disappointed over the lack of a membership timetable but none of that tension was present when Biden and Zelensky stood in front of cameras on Wednesday. The latter even claimed that the summit results "had been good overall and welcomed a flurry of announcements of new military aid from allies."
Zelensky also thanked the leaders for the new commitment. "The Ukrainian delegation is bringing home significant security, victory for Ukraine, for our country, for our people, for our children. It opens for us absolutely new security opportunities, and I thank everyone who made it possible," he said.
Meanwhile, days before the summit, Germany had already expressed its plan on delaying Ukraine's accession to NATO as they feared taking Kyiv into the alliance could just involve the whole group in its ongoing and dragging war with Russia.
According to a reliable source, Berlin wanted to use the summit as an avenue to urge others to focus on security assurances, rather than membership proposals, to help Ukraine defend itself without accession.
"Berlin is stand-offish at the prospect of offering immediate membership," the source told the Telegraph. "It wants a process and time to develop guarantees to essentially block membership. Berlin doesn't want to see Vladimir Putin potentially test Article 5." As per the NATO alliance's Article 5 clause, any member state attacked by an outside aggressor has the right to request military intervention from the rest of the allies.
Zelensky has ramped up his campaign for Ukraine to join NATO after Russia invaded last year. He has called for the 31 member states to take concrete steps towards Ukrainian membership so his country can quickly join the transatlantic alliance after the war. The Russian president has since threatened the use of nuclear weapons in the war, prompting fears of escalation in Western countries.
United States National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said they "are not seeking to start World War Three. Ukraine will not be joining NATO coming out of this summit."
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace noted that Ukraine needs to emphasize thanking the West for its assistance. This was after Zelensky complained that his country had not been issued a firm timetable or set of conditions for joining the alliance.
"Whether we like it or not, people want to see a bit of gratitude," Wallace said at a briefing in the margins of the NATO summit. "Sometimes you are asking countries to give up their own stocks [of weapons]. Sometimes you have to persuade lawmakers on the [Capitol] Hill in America."
Zelensky denied the allegations in a separate press conference, pointing out he believes they were always grateful to the United Kingdom, to the prime minister and to the minister of defense.
"Because the people in the U.K. have always supported Ukraine and we are grateful for this. I don't know what he [Wallace] means, let him write to me and tell me how he would like us to be grateful," Zelensky answered the reporter who pressed for his thoughts on the issue. Turning his attention to the Ukrainian defense minister sitting in the audience, he said: "Do you have issues with the defense minister of the United Kingdom? Did you tell him you're grateful?" He then demanded: "You have to call him today! Please!"
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier distanced himself from Wallace's comments, saying Zelensky had "repeatedly expressed gratitude."
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