Zelensky slams ‘absurd’ NATO membership decision

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticised the absence of a timetable for his country’s bid to join NATO as “unprecedented and absurd”.

Kyiv is pushing to be swiftly allowed into the Western alliance, bound together by mutual security guarantees, but divisions among NATO’s 31 members mean there will not be a date or straightforward invitation for Ukraine to join.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Kyiv would get more military aid and security guarantees, an easing of formal conditions to join, as well as a new format of co-operation with the alliance, the so-called NATO-Ukraine Council.

“I expect allies will send a clear, united and positive message on the path towards membership for Ukraine,” Mr Stoltenberg said on arriving at the talks he was due to host.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the gathering would send a “positive signal” about Kyiv’s membership bid.

Mr Zelensky, however, spoke against what he views as weak wording around Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership.

“It’s unprecedented and absurd when a timeframe is not set, neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership,” he said on the Telegram messaging app before joining the summit as a special guest.

The summit, in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, is taking place as Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive, which began last month, proceeds more slowly than hoped.

Amid several pledges of more military aid, French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would start supplying long-range missiles to help Ukraine hit back against Russian forces.

While NATO members agree Kyiv cannot join during the war, they disagree over how quickly it could happen afterward and under what conditions.

NATO members in eastern Europe have backed Kyiv’s stance, arguing bringing Ukraine under NATO’s collective security umbrella is the best way to deter Russia from attacking again.

Countries such as the US and Germany have been more cautious, wary of any move they fear could draw NATO into a direct conflict with Russia.

Diplomats said the text of the final agreement of the summit might raise the prospect of the alliance being in a position to “extend an invitation” to Kyiv to join “when allies agree and conditions are met”.

The summit is also set to approve NATO’s first comprehensive plans since the end of the Cold War to defend against any attack from Russia.

Moscow, which has cited NATO’s eastern expansion as a key factor in its decision to invade Ukraine, has criticised the two-day summit.

Russia’s state news agency RIA quoted a Vienna-based senior Russian diplomat as warning Europe would be the first to face “catastrophic consequences” should the war in Ukraine escalate.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “necessary arrangements” would be made to ensure Ukraine receives security assurances after the war.

Lithuania’s NATO ambassador said the summit would commit €500 million ($824 million) a year in non-lethal help to Ukraine, including medical supplies and de-mining.

While Ukraine was set to be kept waiting, another country seemingly secured a breakthrough on its path to NATO membership.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan late on Monday agreed to forward Sweden’s bid to join to his parliament for ratification.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 prompted Sweden – and its Nordic neighbour Finland – to abandon decades of military non-alignment and apply to join NATO.

Finland became NATO’s 31st member in April but Sweden’s accession has been held up by a dispute with Turkey. Mr Erdogan had accused Sweden of not doing enough to crack down on militants that Ankara sees as terrorists.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Erdogan agreed to step up co-operation on fighting terrorism.

Mr Scholz said he would talk to his Turkish counterpart in Vilnius about Ankara’s ties with the EU.

The US also promised to move forward with the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, Mr Sullivan said.

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