NATO must decide this year whether to admit Ukraine as a member, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday, bolstering his case, at a summit of European leaders in Moldova, for action. in the country of the alliance.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than 15 months ago has given added urgency to the country’s application in September to join NATO, a body set to hold a summit meeting in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, next year. month.
The Kyiv government sees membership as the ultimate guarantee of its security. The United States and other NATO allies, while supporting the Kyiv government with billions of dollars in military aid, have so far proven reluctant to take that step given that it could bring the alliance into direct conflict. conflict with Moscow.
“This year is for decisions,” Mr. Zelensky said at the European Political Community summit in a castle outside the Moldovan capital. He speaks in English. “In the summer of Vilnius at the NATO summit, a clear invitation from the members of Ukraine is needed, and security guarantees on the way to NATO membership are needed.” His comments were reported by Reuters.
Few expected concrete progress at the one-day summit of 47 leaders.
But the gathering – a forum for almost all European leaders – sought to demonstrate Western unity in defying the Kremlin’s calculation that political and economic fatigue will weaken support for Ukraine. Russia and its close ally, Belarus, were not invited and Turkey’s newly re-elected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, chose not to attend.
Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of Estonia, said the attendance of so many leaders sends “a signal that multilateralism actually works, and also that we are behind Moldova and we are behind Ukraine.” The West, he added, must show President Vladimir V. Putin that he cannot wait for Ukraine and the West. “When Putin realizes and Russia realizes that they made a mistake in the war in Ukraine, the war will be over.”
Thursday’s meeting has a loose agenda, focusing on issues such as improving political dialogue and strengthening security, stability and prosperity, according to a description of the forum on a European Union website. .
Some analysts doubted its value, especially given the disagreements within Europe about the war. But others argue that, while the European Political Community is new – the first meeting was held in October – it will provide opportunities for dialogue.
Coming to the summit, Mr. Zelensky said that security guarantees are also important for Moldova. Ukraine’s war and its economic collapse have reverberated in the Eastern European country, which has taken in many Ukrainian refugees.
Moldova is facing increasing pressure on its leadership, and this year President Maia Sandu accused Russia of trying to topple her government through protests organized by pro-Russian forces.
“I think security guarantees are very important, not only for Ukraine. For all neighbors,” Mr. Zelensky told reporters after the meeting with Ms. Sandu. “What is important – our future in EU and NATO,” he said. Ukraine took some of the first steps toward European Union membership about a decade ago.
Mr. Zelensky, who spent the first months after the invasion in Kyiv as a show of defiance, has traveled to Europe in recent weeks and attended a summit of Group of 7 leaders in Japan last month. At every forum, he pressed his case for greater military and diplomatic support for his country.
Ukraine, however, was not the only issue discussed at the summit.
The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are also expected to meet at the summit in the latest talks focused on the long-standing dispute over their common border and the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Discussions on the issues have also been held outside Washington and in Brussels in recent weeks.
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, who led the negotiations, said before the summit that the two leaders “have made some progress and I hope that today will be an occasion to confirm a common political will to normalize relations between the two countries,” according to a Reuters report.
Andrew Higgins contributed to the report.