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NATO Summit 2023: New security assurances and assurances that Ukraine's future lies within NATO easing concerns on the summit's final day

Concerns that Ukrainian anger at not being admitted to the alliance would derail one of the most important summits in recent NATO history were seemingly allayed on Wednesday by security promises from key members and assurances that Ukraine’s future belongs in NATO.

On Wednesday at the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, President Joe Biden and G7 leaders announced a significant show of support for Ukraine, offering a unified declaration of support for Ukraine aimed at improving the war-torn country’s military capability.

While Ukraine is undergoing “necessary reforms,” Biden explained that the alliance did not extend an invitation to membership at the summit; nonetheless, he added, “We’re not waiting on that process to be finished” to improve Ukraine’s security. In an exclusive interview last week, Biden reiterated that Ukraine is not prepared to join NATO and that Russia’s war in Ukraine must cease before the alliance can consider adding Kyiv as a member.

In the interim, Mr. Zelensky and I discussed what sort of assurances we could provide. Our long-term pledges today are based on the understanding that Ukraine will have the security it requires and protection from any threat for the foreseeable future.

The situation in Ukraine has taken centre stage at the summit, with President Biden hoping to maintain solidarity in support of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the face of Russia’s invasion. On Tuesday, Zelensky landed in Lithuania and released a fiery statement venting his dissatisfaction at the lack of information he had received about Ukraine’s planned alliance membership.

According to a news conference he gave with the alliance’s chief, though, it seems he heard enough to be satisfied and return home. In light of Kyiv’s good ties to NATO countries, NATO agreed to waive the Membership Action Plan criterion for Ukraine’s entry into the organisation. The document did not provide a date by which Ukraine will be admitted as a full member.

Despite his previous misgivings, Zelensky told President Biden during their discussion on the summit’s sidelines that he thought the summit was a “success” for Ukraine. US President echoed this sentiment during his speech.

I can’t even fathom how frustrating that must be. I know that you get annoyed when things don’t reach you soon enough or when you’re unhappy with the items that do reach you or the means by which we reach you. But rest assured that the United States is working around the clock to deliver you the resources you require as soon as possible, as Biden put it.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan handled a tense question from a Ukrainian activist during an appearance at a NATO public forum on Wednesday morning, illustrating how the tensions between Washington and Kyiv have spilled into the open ahead of the meeting. This may have served as a preview of how Biden will respond to Zelensky’s frustrations later in the day. The activist was told by Sullivan that “Americans do have some reason to be thankful” for their support and that Sullivan supported the decision to temporarily exclude Ukraine from the alliance. He also complimented the Ukrainian people for resisting Russian aggression.

The American people have been watching and hoping for an opportunity to show their support for the brave and valiant Ukrainian people. And I think the American people do deserve some thanks for stepping up when called upon, both from the United States and its government and from the rest of the globe and its allies and partners, as Sullivan put it.

Later on Wednesday, though, when Biden and Zelensky appeared before the cameras, there was no sign of the earlier animosity.

Biden assured Ukrainian President Zelensky that U.S. support will continue at a meeting with G-7 leaders. Deputy Secretary of State Joe Biden noted that this proclamation “kicks off negotiations for long-term bilateral security obligations between our countries and Ukraine. Other nations are invited to participate.”

Biden promised, “We’re going to help Ukraine build a strong defence on land, in the air, and at sea.” He called it “a force of stability in the region that will stop any and all threats.”

He lauded the efforts of the G7 leaders and Zelensky, saying that the proclamation was a “potent demonstration of our dedication to Ukraine” and promising that the United States intends to stay in the country for “as long as is deemed necessary.”

For their renewed dedication, Zelensky congratulated the leaders.

“Security and victory for Ukraine, our country, our people, and our children are among the many gifts the Ukrainian delegation is sending home. I want to thank everyone who helped make this possible because it gives us tremendous new security options,” he stated.

New military assistance to Ukraine

Shortly after the Wednesday summit’s leaders finished speaking, the G7 released a three-page paper outlining the joint declaration agreement.

“Beginning today, we will begin discussions with the Ukrainian government to formally formalise our ongoing assistance in maintaining Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, rebuilding the country’s economy, and protecting its people, and works to accede to the Euro-Atlantic community through bilateral security commitments and arrangements in line with this multilateral framework, in accordance with our respective legal and constitutional requirements,” the declaration said.

In particular, it will centre on “long-term security arrangements and obligations between the two countries with a focus on” three goals.

The first objective is “ensuring a sustainable force capable of defending Ukraine now and deterring Russian aggression in the future,” and this will be accomplished through the provision of ongoing security assistance and modern military equipment, support for the development of Ukraine’s industrial base, training for forces, intelligence sharing and cooperation, and support for cyber defence, security, and resilience initiatives.

The second goal is to create conditions that will help Ukraine’s economy grow, including its energy security. This includes making Ukraine’s economy more stable and resilient, for example by helping with rebuilding and recovery. And finally, helping Ukraine meet its immediate needs caused by Russia’s war by giving it the technical and financial support it needs to keep implementing the effective reform plan that will support good governance and help it move closer to its goal of joining the Euro-Atlantic area.

Senior director for Europe on the National Security Council Amanda Sloat told reporters that the statement will kick off a phase of bilateral consultations with Kyiv.

Specifically, the United States will assist Ukraine “in implementing reforms that will foster the good governance essential to achieving its Euro-Atlantic goals and will help Ukraine build a long-term military capability that can both defend the country now and deter potential Russian invasion,” she stated.

Sloat said the proclamation was meant to send a message to Russia and increase Ukraine’s deterrence.

We believe the proclamation we will make today will help guarantee Ukraine’s continued existence as a sovereign, democratic, and free nation. It’s a demonstration of the two countries’ long-term commitment to stabilising and pacifying the region through the development of a formidable defensive and deterrence force for Ukraine. Sloat remarked that the multilateral declaration would send Russia a strong message that time was not on its side.

Zelensky and Biden have a meeting

After some initial animosity, Biden and Zelensky made up during their meeting in Vilnius, with both leaders praising the other.

I’m glad to see so many of my colleagues here today, and I hope it shows you how much public backing you have. It’s for real, and I’m glad we can put to rest any lingering doubts about Ukraine’s acceptance into NATO. The event is inevitable. We’re making progress in the proper way. “I believe it is simply a matter of surviving the next few months,” the President of the United States informed his Ukrainian counterpart.

President Biden praised the bravery of the Ukrainian people and pointed out that Russia’s war has been going on for over 500 days.

The world, he replied, has witnessed the bravery you’ve displayed. You are a role model of true bravery for everyone in the globe. I believe that your perseverance and determination have served as an example to people all around the globe.

Biden remarked that he “looks forward” to a future celebration of his country’s admission to the alliance, during which he lauded Zelensky’s leadership.

A meeting to “celebrate your official, official membership in NATO” was something he was looking forward to.

His remark, “The bad news for you is: We’re not going anywhere, you’re stuck with us,” elicited his opponent’s uncommon but welcome laughter.

Zelensky responded by expressing deep gratitude to the United States for being “shoulder to shoulder” with Ukraine from the first stages of the conflict. In addition, he admitted that the United States was under fire after President Biden’s contentious decision to ship cluster bombs to his country the previous week.

“It’s very simple to criticise, for example, cluster munitions,” he remarked, referring to them as a “difficult political decision.”

He thanked Biden for his “huge support” and added that the choice to use the weapons will “help to save us.”

He extended his gratitude to all Americans.

You use that cash to keep us alive. The lives of Europeans and people elsewhere would be saved, he declared.

Biden thanked Zelensky for his gratitude to the American people.

The people of the United States back you. For the simple reason that they realise it is about more than just you. The way Putin and the Russians are moving is “like something out of the 14th century,” he remarked, referring to the impact on innocent people around the world.

Biden has declared that the war is “uniting the world.” It’s an extremely high cost to bear. But it’s uniting us all, and people are beginning to see that we can’t allow this type of assault to continue unchecked.

Just before Christmas, Zelensky made his first travel outside of Ukraine since the war began. He visited Washington to give a speech to Congress and was feted by President Joe Biden in the Oval Office. A few months later, Biden made an unexpected trip to Kyiv to return the favour and unveil a $500 million aid package. As the two presidents strolled past the golden dome of St. Michael’s Cathedral, air raid sirens sounded, adding to the dramatic atmosphere.

Their most recent face-to-face encounter occurred in May during the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan. After months of fierce battle, the Russians finally captured the town of Bakhmut, and Zelensky took advantage of the situation to lobby world leaders for greater aid.

Ukraine has been waiting for 15 years to hear when it may officially join the alliance, so that uncertainty hung over the conference. There has been little progress and no clear schedule since a summit in Bucharest, Romania, in 2008 welcomed Ukraine’s membership aspirations.

Ukraine and many of its NATO partners have been pressing for more specifics on how the country may join the alliance, and they hope to receive such details in a declaration in Vilnius. That, in my opinion, must occur if the alliance is to be taken seriously. In a statement released by the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Centre for Strategy and Security, Transatlantic Security Initiative Director Chris Skaluba remarked, “There is a lot at stake in this battle, and the Ukrainian people have been through a lot. If we leave Vilnius without a clearer understanding of what it will take to get Ukraine into the alliance, I fear for the credibility of the alliance as a whole.”

The “major address” by Biden

Biden and his administration have maintained their “open door” policy towards the alliance.

There has been tension inside the alliance building up to the summit since NATO countries in Eastern Europe bordering Ukraine or Russia have made a greater push for a commitment to extend membership to Ukraine, including establishing a more clear schedule.

A critical indication to Russia of NATO’s long-term support for Ukraine is whether or not the alliance can deliver any extra long-term security assistance to Ukraine, such as the prospect of additional F-16 fighter jets and other long-term investments, when leaders convene.

A “substantial” new aid package for Ukraine has been “unanimously agreed” to by Biden and NATO leaders, Sloat told reporters on Wednesday, though she did not elaborate.

Also on Wednesday, Biden will deliver a foreign policy presentation that his staff has called a “major address” in which he will discuss the effectiveness of NATO.

Sloat said that Biden will talk about “how the widespread support for Ukraine shows the value of our alliances and partnerships, which he has revitalised since taking office.” The president is using the bully pulpit to show off his foreign policy experience as he runs for a second term.

Sloat said that Biden will talk about how we can use the same unity, sense of purpose, and sense of urgency to solve other big problems, like the climate crisis, new technologies, keeping the international rules of the road, and making more opportunities available.

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