NATO leaders express continued support for Ukraine at summit
By Lara Jakes and Steven Erlanger
Over the course of a two-day summit in Lithuania, the leaders of NATO’s 31 member nations projected unity in their support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s bloody invasion, promising new military support and making the strongest pledges yet that Ukraine would become a member — though they provided no clarity on when and how exactly it would happen.
The consensus on Ukraine’s eventual membership and the agreement forged on the eve of the NATO gathering to clear the way to make Sweden the alliance’s 32nd member were significant successes. But the summit also reflected the diplomatic challenges inherent within an alliance that spans the Atlantic Ocean and now borders a war zone.
The ambiguous diplomatic language in the summit’s final communiqué on Ukraine — an invitation will be extended “when allies agree and conditions are met,” leaving unsaid the conditions — did not disguise some serious strains among alliance members. And President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in his first public remarks since backing Sweden’s bid for admission to the alliance, tempered expectations that he would swiftly push the approval through the Turkish Parliament.
Even so, President Joe Biden hailed the unity of the alliance in a speech at Vilnius University following the summit that invoked Cold War history, including Lithuania’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. “We will not waver” in support of Ukraine, he declared, emphasizing that the war must end on “just terms.”
Other leaders also chose to emphasize the positive. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — who before the summit said it was “absurd” there was not yet a timeline for his country’s full-fledged NATO membership — said that he was leaving Vilnius with “support from the leaders and an unambiguous statement that Ukraine will be in NATO.”
Here are other developments:
— During the summit, the alliance created a special body, the NATO-Ukraine Council, meant to give Ukraine a voice alongside NATO member states on key issues related to its security. Zelenskyy attended its inaugural meeting Wednesday.
— Several nations pledged new military aid to Ukraine, a move that Russia called a mistake while warning of unspecified countermeasures. There were promises of midrange missiles from France, tank ammunition from Germany, a training center for fighter pilots in Romania and a rehabilitation center for wounded Ukrainian soldiers in Britain. The Biden administration is also considering sending Ukraine long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS.
— Erdogan’s hints that Sweden’s accession may not be a done deal were bound to disappoint many of his NATO allies, who had hoped that his use of the issue to win concessions for Turkey over the past year had finally come to an end. Erdogan also said that Sweden needed to continue working to address Turkey’s security concerns, suggesting that he was not yet ready to give up his leverage.
— Eleven European countries established a coalition to train Ukrainian pilots to use U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets. The United States has approved the coalition but has not authorized the provision of the jets to Ukraine.