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Ukraine warns Western promises can’t replace NATO ambition

The 31 NATO leaders had agreed on Tuesday that Ukraine would get an invite when they agreed that all 'conditions are met'.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed new security guarantees from Western powers on Wednesday but warned that, in the face of Russian invasion, this would be no substitute for eventual NATO membership.

On the last day of NATO’s Vilnius summit, the G7 group of major powers made a long-term pledge of support to help Ukraine defeat the Russian threat and to deter future aggression after the war ends.

This was enough to draw a furious condemnation from the Kremlin, but not sufficient to meet the ambition of Zelensky, who came to the Lithuanian capital seeking an invitation and clear timetable for Ukraine to join the Atlantic alliance.

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“The best guarantee for Ukraine is to be in NATO,” Zelensky said, expressing confidence that once the war is over Ukraine would be welcomed, but warning that the G7 guarantees should be seen “not instead of NATO, but as security guarantees on our way to integration.”

The 31 NATO leaders had agreed on Tuesday that Ukraine would get an invite when they agreed that all “conditions are met”. Zelensky explained this by saying: “I understand this as ‘when it will be safe on our land’.”

‘Meet as equals’

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg was sympathetic to Zelensky’s position but stressed the importance of the progress he said Ukraine had made at the summit, held under tight security on NATO’s eastern flank, 16 months after Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine.

He noted that Zelensky joined NATO leaders at an inaugural meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Council, and said several allies were boosting bilateral assistance, such as France with a pledge of long-range missiles and the Netherlands leading a coalition to train fighter pilots.

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“Today, we meet as equals, I look forward to the day we meet as allies,” Stoltenberg said.

In a joint statement seen by AFP, the G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United States — said they would send weapons and support to help Ukraine defeat both the ongoing Russian invasion and to deter any future attack once peace is secured.

“We will stand with Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression, for as long as it takes,” the statement said.

Ukraine’s hopes

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that Ukraine could not join NATO right away, because it would be “an inescapable fact” that the treaty’s mutual defence clause would mean that the allies would be immediately in a direct war with Russia.

But he stressed that “the G7 … will stand up with President Zelensky to announce we’re prepared to provide that security assistance long out into the future.

“And certainly for the duration of the period while Ukraine is working its way on the pathway towards NATO,” he said.

The G7 pledges might have fallen short of Ukraine’s hopes, but they were more than enough to enrage Moscow.

“By giving security guarantees to Ukraine, they are undermining the security of the Russian Federation,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, warning that the step “will make Europe much more dangerous for years and years”.

NATO allies from eastern and northern Europe, themselves wary of Russian adventurism, have been most supportive of Kyiv’s membership bid, but alliance leader the United States and European economic powerhouse Germany have been more cautious.

Ukraine’s defence

US President Joe Biden was to meet Zelensky at the summit, and Washington has been the biggest single supplier of weapons for Ukraine’s defence, but he is concerned that making Kyiv a full alliance member before peace is secured could drag the West into the conflict.

Zelensky also had head-to-head meetings with several more leaders including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who expressed sympathy for his disappointment.

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“Both agreed the arrangements will not be a substitute for NATO membership and looked forward to building on the new security framework as soon as possible,” Sunak’s Downing Street office said as the leaders began the formal meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Council.

The G7 announcement provides a framework under which individual nations will later agree bilateral deals with Kyiv detailing the weapons they will give and response they will make if Russia ups the ante.

Iranian drones

The West wants to send a message to Putin that he cannot keep the war grinding in the hope that international backing for Ukraine will eventually falter.

Biden has previously suggested a model for Ukraine similar to one under which Washington has committed to giving Israel $3.8 billion in military aid per year over a decade.

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Russia launched drone strikes on Kyiv for the second night in a row, the head of the city’s military administration said early Wednesday.

All of the Iran-made Shahed explosive drones launched at Kyiv were “detected and destroyed,” Sergiy Popko said on Telegram, adding “there was no information about victims or destruction as of now”.

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