VILNIUS — Ukraine’s future is inside NATO, but the military alliance will extend an invitation to Kyiv only when “members agree and conditions are met,” NATO leaders said in a declaration that disappointed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the first day of their summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on July 11 told a press conference that there had never been a stronger message from NATO both on the political message for membership and the concrete support from NATO allies.
Speaking to reporters, Stoltenberg said Ukraine has moved closer to membership, in part due to its adoption of large amounts of military equipment and training from NATO members to help Kyiv repel invading Russian forces since February 2022.
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This development allowed for the “unprecedented” dropping of the requirement for Ukraine to fulfill a Membership Action Plan (MAP), Stoltenberg said, just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said it would be “unprecedented and absurd” if NATO didn’t offer Kyiv a clear timeline for either full integration or at least an invitation to start membership negotiations.
The declaration says the NATO leaders “recognize that Ukraine’s path to full Euro-Atlantic integration has moved beyond” the need for the MAP.
“We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met,” it added, without releasing details of what the conditions are.
Zelenskiy complained about “vague wording about conditions” for inviting Ukraine even before the declaration was published.
“It seems there is no readiness neither to invite Ukraine to NATO nor to make it a member of the Alliance,” he added.
But Stoltenberg told the news conference that previous accessions to NATO had not been accompanied by a timeline. “They are conditions-based, have always been,” he said.
The Ukrainian leader said the perceived ambiguity would only benefit Russia and pledged to raise the issue in person at the summit.
“For Russia, this means motivation to continue its terror. Uncertainty is weakness. And I will openly discuss this at the summit,” he said after confirming he will meet on July 12 with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the summit.
Speaking later at a rally in Vilnius, Zelenskiy said NATO will make Ukraine safer and Ukraine will make NATO stronger.
“I traveled here today with belief in a decision, with belief in partners, with belief in a strong NATO,” he said. “I would wish for this belief to become a certainty — certainty in decisions that all of us deserve and which our every soldier expects, our every citizen, our every mother, our every child. And is this too big of a wish?”
While the language of the declaration fell short of this wish, it used strong language toward Moscow, saying: “The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”
The Kremlin railed over the summit, saying the alliance was treating Russia as though it were an “enemy,” exacerbating an already volatile security situation around the world.
“Russia is perceived by [NATO leaders] as an enemy, as an adversary. It is in this vein that the discussions [in Vilnius] will be conducted,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing in Moscow.
“We are monitoring this very carefully because much of what has been said will be subject to in-depth analysis in order to take measures to ensure our own security,” he added.
Ahead of the summit, France and Germany announced new military aid packages for Ukraine.
President Emmanuel Macron said on arrival in Vilnius that France will start supplying long-range missiles to Ukraine, which will allow Kyiv’s forces to defend themselves .
“I have decided to increase deliveries of weapons and equipment to enable the Ukrainians to have the capacity to strike deeply while keeping our doctrine to allow Ukraine to defend its territory,” he said, without giving further details on how many or the types of missiles.
IN PHOTOS: Kyiv’s forces on the front line near Kreminna, in eastern Ukraine, have been using a captured Russian TOS-1A Solntsepyok (“Blazing Sun”) heavy thermobaric rocket launcher to devastate Moscow’s forces as the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues.
An unnamed French military source told reporters in Vilnius that Paris has already started delivering a significant number of SCALP cruise missiles to Ukraine.
SCALP is the French name of a long-range missile developed jointly by France and Britain and known in the United Kingdom as Storm Shadow.
The SCALPs, which have a 250-kilometer range, would only be used within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and would be launched from non-Western planes, the source said.
Britain has already delivered a number of Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine since May.
The German Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said on July 11 that Germany also would give Ukraine military armored vehicles and ammunition worth 700 million euros ($768 million).
Hours before the start of the summit, Russia launched another drone attack on Kyiv — the second this month — and Odesa.
The attack was largely repelled by the Ukrainian air defenses, causing only minor damage around Kyiv, according to initial assessments.
“All detected air targets that were moving in the direction of Kyiv were destroyed by our air-defense forces,” the head of the Ukrainian capital’s military administration, Serhiy Popko, said on Telegram.
In the Black Sea city of Odesa, two drones hit an administrative building in the port and a grain terminal caught fire, which was quickly extinguished causing no “critical damage” or injuries, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said on Telegram.
The Ukrainian air defense said separately that it had destroyed 26 out of the 28 Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Russia.
With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Vilnius, Reuters, and AFP