VILNIUS — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius was “significant and powerful,” as it covered the situation at the front and other topics related to Russia’s invasion.
Zelenskiy said he and Biden, who later told a crowd at Vilnius University that U.S. and allied commitment to Ukraine “will not weaken,” discussed further security cooperation and internal processes in Russia “taking into account the latest events” — an apparent reference to last month’s mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group.
“The United States has stood side by side with Ukraine throughout our defense against aggression. We appreciate it tremendously. Thank you personally to @POTUS, the Congress and the American people for the vitally important assistance — military, financial, political — provided to Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion,” Zelenskiy said on Twitter.
Zelenskiy earlier on July 12 welcomed a long-term security “framework” for Ukraine to be offered by the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized economies, but stressed it isn’t a replacement for a clear timetable from NATO for membership in the military alliance.
The G7 announced the upcoming arrangement in the wake of Kyiv’s disappointment after a NATO summit in Lithuania issued a vaguely worded statement saying the 31-member defense organization “will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met.”
In return Ukraine, would pledge improved governance measures, including through judicial, economic reforms and enhanced transparency.
“We can state that the results of this summit are good, but should we receive an invitation, then that would be the optimum,” Zelenskiy told a joint news conference with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Vilnius prior to his meeting with Biden.
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“The best guarantee for Ukraine is to be in NATO,” Zelenskiy told reporters.
Standing next to the Ukrainian president, Stoltenberg said that, despite the lack of an invitation to join, Ukraine “is now closer to NATO than ever before,” adding, “I look forward to the day we meet as allies.”
“We must ensure that when this war ends, there are credible arrangements in place for Ukraine’s security, so that history does not repeat itself,” he said.
The G7 framework, announced in a statement by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, lays the groundwork for each nation in the group to negotiate agreements to help Ukraine bolster its military over the long term.
It will provide more defense equipment, increase and accelerate intelligence sharing, bolster support for cyber and hybrid threat defenses, expand training programs and military exercises, and develop Ukraine’s industrial base. It will also allow for long-term bilateral security agreements between Kyiv and the G7 countries.
“Supporting their progress on the pathway to NATO membership, coupled with formal, multilateral, and bilateral agreements and the overwhelming support of NATO members will send a strong signal to [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin and return peace to Europe,” Sunak added.
The Kremlin immediately lashed out at the security agreement, saying it is “a mistake.”
“We consider this extremely ill-judged and potentially very dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow, adding that “by providing security guarantees to Ukraine, they’re infringing on Russia’s security.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said after the summit ended that the Kremlin was ready to respond to threats by using all necessary means.
“The results of the Vilnius summit will be carefully analyzed. Taking into account the challenges and threats to Russia’s security and interests that have been identified, we will respond in a timely and appropriate manner, using all means and methods at our disposal,” the ministry said in a statement. “In addition to the decisions already taken, we will continue to strengthen the country’s military organization and defense system.”
On the final day of the NATO summit, the alliance launched a new forum for deepening ties with Ukraine, known as 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.
Zelenskiy welcomed the fresh pledges of support, saying the Ukrainian delegation “is bringing home a significant security victory for Ukraine, for our country, for our people, for our children,” he said.
Biden told the Ukrainian president after their meeting that “the United States is doing everything we can to get you what you need.”
U.S. support “will last long into the future,” Biden said after the face-to-face meeting. “We’re going to help Ukraine build a strong, capable defense.”
In his speech at the university, Biden pledged that Western allies “will not waver” in defense of Ukraine, casting the struggle against Russian aggression as one of the world’s central challenges.
“Our unity will not falter,” Biden declared. “I promise you.”
Calling Lithuania a country that knows the “transformational power of freedom,” Biden drew parallels between Lithuania’s struggle to escape Soviet rule and Ukraine’s ongoing fight to repel Russia’s invasion.
“America never recognized the Soviet occupation of the Baltic,” he said to cheers from the crowd in a courtyard draped with U.S. and Lithuanian flags.
The president pointed to the U.S. and allied response to Moscow’s invasion as a model for how to respond to other global challenges, from climate change to the rise of China, touting the strength in the broad and deep coalition.
“Our commitment to Ukraine will not weaken,” he said. “We will stand for freedom today, tomorrow and for as long as it takes.”
Zelenskiy said earlier on July 12 that his priorities at the meeting were to receive more support for soldiers fighting on the ground in Ukraine and to exact security guarantees from allies.
“More weapons for our warriors, more protection of life for the whole of Ukraine!” he said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace raised eyebrows by suggesting that Ukraine should appear more grateful for Western military support and not treat allies like “Amazon.”
In comments cited by multiple British media outlets, Wallace said he had heard “grumbles” from lawmakers in Washington that “we’re not Amazon.” He agreed with the statements, saying he had told the Ukrainians the same.
British Prime Minister Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, downplayed the remarks. “I think you have heard from President Zelenskiy repeatedly…about his gratitude to the people of the United Kingdom for their support and their generosity,” Blain said.
With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Vilnius, Reuters, AP, and AFP