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Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticises ‘absurd’ lack of timetable for Ukraine to join NATO as he arrives at summit in Vilnius | World News

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has criticised the “absurd” absence of a timetable for his country to join NATO as leaders met at a summit in Lithuania.

US President Joe Biden described the gathering as a “historic moment” and said Washington agreed with a proposal, yet to be released publicly, to outline a path for Ukraine’s eventual membership of the alliance.

Ukraine-Russia war latest: NATO agrees Ukraine will join alliance and sets out ‘clear path’ to membership

However, Mr Zelenskyy, who is in Vilnius for the summit, expressed disappointment at how the negotiations were playing out.

“We value our allies,” he wrote on Twitter but added that “Ukraine also deserves respect”.

“It’s unprecedented and absurd when timeframe is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership,” Mr Zelenskyy said.

He added: “Uncertainty is weakness. And I will openly discuss this at the summit.”

The public flash of anger from the Ukrainian president, who has been lauded in the West as a hero for his leadership, could renew tensions in Vilnius just as they had begun to subside.

Mr Zelenskyy later addressed a crowd at a concert being held alongside the conference in Lithuania’s capital, telling a crowd full of people waving Ukrainian flags that “NATO will make Ukraine safer and Ukraine will make NATO stronger”.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Joe Biden, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, British Prime Minster Rishi Sunak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, other NATO leaders and other officials stand for a family photo, ahead of a NATO leaders summit, in Vilnius, Lithuania July 11, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman.

Responding to Mr Zelenskyy’s comments, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said a timeline for Ukraine’s membership in the alliance has not been set out as it is “conditions-based”.

Speaking at a news conference this afternoon, Mr Stoltenberg said there has “never been a stronger message from NATO at any time”.

The alliance chief said members had agreed a “substantive package” to move Ukraine closer and were sending a “strong political message with the language on membership”.

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Turkey ratifies Sweden’s NATO accession

“If you look at all membership processes there have not been timelines… they are conditions based, have always been,” Mr Stoltenberg told reporters in Vilnius.

On Monday evening, the night before the summit opened, Turkey withdrew its objections to Sweden joining the alliance, a step towards the unity Western leaders have been eager to demonstrate in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The deal was reached after days of intensive meetings, and it is poised to expand the alliance’s strength in northern Europe.

“Rumours of the death of NATO’s unity are greatly exaggerated,” Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, told reporters on Tuesday.

According to a joint statement issued when the deal was announced, Mr Erdogan will ask Turkey’s parliament to approve Sweden joining NATO.

Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden attend a NATO leaders summit in Vilnius, Lithuania
Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden were among the attendees in Vilnius

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to take a similar step.

The outcome is a victory for Mr Biden, as he has described NATO’s expansion as an example of how Russia’s invasion has backfired on Vladimir Putin.

Finland has already become the 31st member of the alliance, and Sweden will become the 32nd. Both Nordic countries were historically non-aligned until the war increased fears of Russian aggression.

Because of the deal on Sweden’s membership, “this summit is already historic before it has started”, Mr Stoltenberg said.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters NATO’s expansion is “one of the reasons that led to the current situation”.

“It looks like the Europeans don’t understand their mistake,” Mr Peskov said. He warned against putting Ukraine on a fast track for NATO membership.

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“Potentially it’s very dangerous for the European security, it carries very big risks,” Mr Peskov added.

Mr Biden began Tuesday by meeting Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, where he emphasised his commitment to transatlantic cooperation.

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NATO head on Ukraine’s accession

“Nothing happens here that doesn’t affect us,” he told Mr Nauseda. The White House said Mr Nauseda presented Mr Biden with the Order of Vytautas the Great, the highest award a Lithuanian president can bestow. Mr Biden is the first US president to receive it.

Mr Biden and Mr Erdogan were scheduled to meet on Tuesday evening, and it was unclear how some of the Turkish president’s other demands would be resolved.

He has been seeking advanced American fighter jets and a path towards membership of the European Union.

The White House has expressed support for both, but publicly insisted that the issues were not related to Sweden joining NATO.

“I stand ready to work with President Erdogan and Turkey on enhancing defence and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Mr Biden said in a statement on Monday.

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