Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden on Wednesday, a rendezvous that now takes on a more hostile tone following the Ukrainian president's public denouncement of NATO’s membership language. | Francisco Seco/AP Photo
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VILNIUS, Lithuania — A major rift between NATO and Ukraine split open today as President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY blasted the alliance for not using language in a joint statement that signals Kyiv would eventually become a member nation.
The text, which NatSec Daily scooped ahead of the official release, says that “We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met.” That language simply reflects the current situation: Allies could all greenlight Kyiv’s accession today if they wanted, but they won’t because Ukraine is still defending itself against Russian invaders and NATO membership would mean the alliance would have to get directly involved.
But Zelenskyy is mad as hell about it and, hours before arriving here, called the rhetoric of the text weak.
“It’s unprecedented and absurd when [a] time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership. While at the same time vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine,” he tweeted.
“Uncertainty is weakness,” he continued.
A person familiar with the discussions, granted anonymity to discuss internal negotiations, said that NATO countries sent this text to Ukraine before it was officially finalized with a subtle message that it was nearly complete and that Kyiv should accept it. Clearly, Zelenskyy did not, presumably because the phrasing isn’t far from the 2008 Bucharest Declaration that stated Ukraine alongside Georgia “will become members of NATO.”
The Biden administration is holding firm to its position backing the declaration, however. “We’ve already said that Ukraine’s place in the future is going to be in the alliance at some point. They’ve got reforms they have to work out. Rule of law, good governance, political reforms that need to be done, and they’re at war right now,” National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY said moments after Zelenskyy’s tweet, adding: “Now is not the time” for Ukraine to join NATO.
NATO Secretary-General JENS STOLTENBERG defended the compromise text, calling it “a strong package for Ukraine,” that ultimately offers “a clear path towards its membership in NATO.”
The Ukrainian leader is scheduled to meet with President JOE BIDEN on Wednesday, a rendezvous that now takes on a more hostile tone following Zelenskyy’s public denouncement. Biden has been very vocal about not offering Ukraine NATO membership during the Vilnius summit because of the continuing war. He also said Kyiv needed to undergo more democratic reforms before it could join the political-military bloc.
All of this adds drama to a summit that earlier today seemed headed for a boring two days. Before the session began, the Turkish president lifted his objection to Sweden’s accession to NATO, seemingly solving the summit’s biggest will-they-won’t-they mystery. That had NATO officials in Vilnius optimistic that the largest headache would be avoided.
But they were wrong, as Zelenskyy’s arrival — and plans to speak out against NATO’s membership language — is set to be the biggest drama yet.