NATO's two-day summit gets underway in Vilnius, with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calling for unity for Ukraine across the alliance.
Ukraine's possible future membership tops the agenda as NATO leaders gather for a two-day summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Individually, members of the alliance continue to pour military support into Ukraine, and while there is widespread backing for Kyiv's eventual adhesion, there is still no timetable.
Ukraine is hoping for at the least robust security guarantees. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is pushing for a show of unity.
"The most urgent task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign and independent nation in Europe. Because unless Ukraine prevails, then there is no membership issue to be discussed at all,” Stoltenberg said in the Lithuanian capital.
NATO leaders in Vilnius are expected to endorse new defence plans in case Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to broaden Moscow’s war beyond Ukraine and westward into allied territory.
Sweden’s accession to the 31-nation alliance is also up for discussion. Before heading to Vilnius, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he would consider approving Sweden's membership application, in return for Turkey's accession into the European Union. However, this offer was quickly squashed by Brussels.
Erdoğan has stalled Sweden’s NATO accession, saying Stockholm is failing to crack down on Kurdish militants in Sweden, which Ankara considers a threat to Turkey's national security.
Ukraine's NATO membership
The biggest item on NATO’s agenda is what to do about Ukraine. US President George W. Bush led the charge in 2008, promising that Ukraine would become a member one day.
Now, the country is trying to fend off a full-scale invasion by NATO’s old foe Russia. The West believes that Ukraine is standing up for its interests, and countries are pouring in billions in aid, economic and military support.
NATO isn’t ready to start membership talks with Ukraine yet. But it is helping to train and modernise its armed forces and security institutions to ensure that the country can take its place among NATO’s ranks after the war is over. The summit will see a new forum for consultations created — the NATO-Ukraine Council.
It’s not really a topic for NATO — more for individual allies — but it’s set to dominate talks in Vilnius.
NATO and its Western partners are discussing ways to protect Ukraine after the war from a future invasion. NATO membership offers ironclad “all for one, one for all” protection, but the 31 countries must agree unanimously on letting Ukraine in, and they’re not united on this.
Failing that, major allies like the US, UK, France and Germany could pledge to shield the country from another attack. NATO and the European Union would back that military protection with more money and other aid.
It’s unlikely that any conclusions will be drawn in Vilnius, but the summit is an important moment for leaders to flesh out what those guarantees might look like.