Ukraine wins G7 security pledges but Nato membership remains elusive
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed fresh pledges of weapons and ammunition to fight Russia’s invasion along with longer-term security commitments from the West on Wednesday even as he expressed disappointment over the lack of a clear path for his country to join NATO as the alliance wrapped up its annual summit.
“The Ukrainian delegation is bringing home a significant security victory for the Ukraine, for our country, for our people, for our children,” he said while flanked by U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders from the Group of Seven most powerful democratic nations.
A joint declaration issued by the G7 lays the groundwork for each nation to negotiate agreements to help Ukraine bolster its military over the long term. Zelensky described the initiative as a bridge toward eventual NATO membership and a deterrent against Russia.
“We will not waver,” Biden vowed 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 American presidents also met privately along with their advisers, and Biden acknowledged that Zelensky is sometimes “frustrated” by the pace of military assistance.
Zelensky thanked Biden, saying that “you spend this money for our lives,” and said shipments of controversial cluster munitions would help Ukraine’s fight against Russia.
It was a marked shift in tone from Zelenskyy’s complaints a day earlier, when he said it was “unprecedented and absurd” to avoid setting a timeline for Ukraine to join NATO.
Biden said Zelensky now understands that whether his country is formally in NATO is “not relevant as long as he has commitments” such as security guarantees. ”So he’s not concerned about that now.”
On the final day of NATO’s summit, the alliance launched a new forum for deepening ties with Ukraine: the NATO-Ukraine Council. It’s intended to serve as a permanent body where the alliance’s 31 members and Ukraine can hold consultations and call for meetings in emergency situations.
The setting is part of NATO’s effort to bring Ukraine as close as possible to the military alliance without actually joining it. On Tuesday, the leaders said in their communique summarizing the summit’s conclusions that Ukraine can join “when allies agree and conditions are met.”
“Today we meet as equals,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference with Zelenskyy. “I look forward to the day we meet as allies.”
The ambiguous plan for Ukraine’s future membership reflects the challenges of reaching consensus among the alliance’s current members while the war continues.
“The results of the summit are good, but if there were an invitation, that would be ideal,” Zelenskyy said, through a translator. He added that joining NATO would be “a serious motivating factor for Ukrainian society” as it resists Russia.
“NATO needs us just as we need NATO,” he said alongside Stoltenberg.
Ukraine’s future membership was the most divisive and emotionally charged 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 designed to do — hold the line against a Russian invasion — but not allow Ukraine to join its ranks and benefit from its security during the war.
“We have to stay outside of this war but be able to support Ukraine. We managed that very delicate balancing act for the last 17 months. It’s to the benefit of everyone that we maintain that balancing act,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said.
Symbols of support for Ukraine are common around Vilnius, where the country’s blue-and-yellow flags hang from buildings and are pasted inside windows. One sign cursed Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another urged NATO leaders to “hurry up” their assistance for Ukraine.
However, there was caution inside the summit itself, especially from Biden, who has explicitly said he doesn’t think Ukraine is ready to join NATO. There are concerns that the country’s democracy is unstable and its corruption remains too deeply rooted.
Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, members are obligated to defend each other from attack, which could swiftly draw the U.S. and other nations into direct fighting with Russia.
Defining an end to hostilities is no easy task. Officials have declined to define the goal, which could suggest a negotiated cease-fire or Ukraine reclaiming all occupied territory. Either way, Putin would essentially have veto power over Ukraine’s NATO membership by prolonging the conflict.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace warned Wednesday of bubbling frustration over Zelenskyy’s demands, adding that “people want to see gratitude” for Western military support. Wallace also said he’s heard “grumbles” from some U.S. lawmakers that “we’re not Amazon.”
“I mean, that’s true,” Wallace said, according to multiple British media outlets. He recalled telling the Ukrainians the same thing when he visited the country last year and was presented with a list of weapon requests. “I’m not Amazon.”
At the same time, the new G7 framework would include long-term commitments to Ukraine’s security.
To repel Russian attack, the major powers promise “swift and sustained security assistance, modern military equipment across land, sea and air domains, and economic assistance.” They also vow to slap more sanctions on Russia.
For now and into the future, they say, they will provide weapons and military equipment, including combat air power, as well as more training for Ukraine’s beleaguered army. Zelenskky has asked that these assurances last at least until Ukraine joins NATO.
Moscow reacted harshly to the G7 plan.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the summit cemented Ukraine’s “role as the main expendable” in the “hybrid war” that it falsely claimed was “unleashed by NATO against Russia.”
“Having embarked on an escalation course, they issued a new batch of promises to supply the Kyiv regime with more and more modern and long-range weapons in order to extend the conflict of attrition for as long as possible,” the ministry said in a statement.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “by providing security guarantees to Ukraine, they’re infringing on Russia’s security.”
Ukraine has been let down by security guarantees in the past. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Russia, the U.S. and U.K agreed that “none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense” in exchange for Kyiv transferring its Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Russia.
But in 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and seized territory in the south and east. In 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion in an attempt to topple Kyiv, leading to the current bloody conflict.
Zelensky told reporters that the Budapest Memorandum was no help without NATO membership and its mutual defense agreement.
“In fact, Ukraine was left with that document and defended itself alone,” he said.
Although international summits are often tightly scripted, this one in Vilnius seesawed between conflict and compromise.
At first leaders appeared to be deadlocked over Sweden’s bid for membership in the alliance. However, Turkey unexpectedly agreed to drop its objections on Monday, the night before the summit formally began.