VILNIUS – Ukraine wanted to end this year’s NATO summit with a clear declaration that it would remain a member of the alliance after the war, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is leaving Lithuania. without a final award.
For weeks, Ukrainian officials have been pushing their counterparts in the United States and Europe to draft language that would provide a timeline and process for membership. The communiqué the allies released on Tuesday did not meet, saying that “we can order in Ukraine when the allies agree and implement it.”
The row has deeply upset Kyiv, which happened in the background when the US and Germany resisted pressure to make concrete promises to Ukraine. It was particularly resentful of the mere definition of conditions, seeing it as a barrier to membership.
The Ukrainian leadership reached out to Washington and Berlin to express their displeasure, after Zelenskyy fired a tweet that sparked outrage on Tuesday about the secret documents that “innumerable and useless.”
“It seems that no one is ready to invite Ukraine to NATO or to become a member of the Alliance,” the president was furious with his 7.3 million followers.
The fight against it made Kyiv unhappy with the plan.
Ukrainians were “disappointed with the way NATO works” and saw “no real dialogue” and cooperation on the issue, said a Ukrainian official familiar with the talks.
Ukraine’s backers, to the tune of billions in military and economic power, were blindsided by Zelenskyy’s anger.
Even Kyiv’s closest friends within NATO were taken aback, seeing the pointless criticism of the Ukrainian president as futile and inappropriate for diplomatic negotiations.
“We consider the tweet to be an offensive statement,” said Northern Europe’s top diplomat.
The tweet, which comes as NATO leaders prepare to meet in Vilnius, added to a last-minute diplomatic scramble to finalize the report, which was published on Tuesday evening.
“We saw his tweet at the same time as everyone else,” a Biden official said. “I think everyone understands the pressure they are feeling, and we are confident that the commitments they made in Vilnius will contribute to the long-term security of Ukraine.”
But by Wednesday, everyone was trying to ease their worries.
Officials presented the package that NATO leaders agreed on in Ukraine, which includes a multi-year program to help pressure changes in Western countries and the establishment of a new NATO-Ukraine Council, as well as the decision to abandon the need for the so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP) – a process of transition before joining.
And showing that the Western governments are supporting the cause of Ukraine, the G7 leaders released a to announce Wednesday afternoon on long-term security promises about Ukraine. This will see governments form a central partnership to provide security, education and other support.
“I believe that Ukraine’s package is good and a solid foundation for close relations on the way to membership,” said the Northern European ambassador.
An angry Kremlin he said about the actions of the G7: “We believe that I am wrong and it could be very dangerous.”
In the end, the fear of Russian aggression proved to be a unifying force.
“This tweet did not change anything in that way,” the ambassador said, adding that the G7 announcement “was also good and many allies have already said they will join” and that “the atmosphere today was warm and friendly.”
French officials, meanwhile, were eager to show understanding and sympathy to the Ukrainian leader.
“He is in his position as head of state in war and war. He is pressuring his allies,” French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu told French TV on Tuesday.
“You have to put yourself in his shoes, there was a commitment in Bucharest, and we know what happened after that,” he added, referring to the NATO meeting in 2008 when the military alliance made vague promises that Ukraine would become a member.
For French President Emmanuel Macron, the Vilnius conference was important moment showing unwavering support for Kyiv – after months of being characterized by Central and Eastern European leaders as being more closely aligned with Moscow.
“It is acceptable that the president of Ukraine wants it with us,” Macron told reporters on Wednesday.
On the Ukrainian side, there was also an acknowledgment that Wednesday’s talks were enlightening.
“The meetings with NATO leaders were very good,” said the Ukrainian official. The country “had very clear information that our membership in NATO would not be a negotiating party with Russia … this was a great fear.”
“Therefore, despite the lack of clarity in the declaration of Ukraine’s membership, the meetings showed that there is a commitment to developing relations,” the official said. But, they said: “Of course, it is not the same as an unwavering commitment in a joint document.”
Zelenskyy himself, who was in Vilnius to attend the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, also spoke well at the press conference, expressing his gratitude for the decision to abandon the need for the MAP, thanking his allies and praising the G7 agreements.
“I haven’t changed my mind,” he insisted when asked about the difference in tone from the previous day.
“The most important thing is that we understand when Ukraine will be in NATO – it may not have been fully explained, but for me it was very important that it depends on security.”
And when asked about fears in Kyiv that NATO membership could become a chip in future negotiations with Russia, he confirmed that this would not be acceptable.
“I am sure there will be no betrayal [U.S. President Joe] Biden or [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz,” said Zelenskyy, “but I must say that we will not exchange any of our communities – not even one village with one elderly person.
Speaking to a crowd in Vilnius on Wednesday evening, Mr Biden confirmed that the West is in Kyiv.
“We will not be shaken. I mean that. Our commitment to Ukraine will not waver,” Biden said.
And as the meeting ended, many officials were quick to try to stop the conflict.
“I feel that this issue is closed,” said the Eastern European ambassador. It is very important to wait. We have a plan ahead of us. Let’s fix it!
“Everything is fine,” said the NATO chief, adding: “it will work for me”
Laura Kayali and Alex Ward contributed reporting.