President Joe Biden and alliance leaders enter the first day of the high-stakes NATO Summit Tuesday with a reinvigorated sense of unity after a major win on Monday evening when Turkey agreed to Sweden’s bid to join the alliance – but the thorny issue of Ukraine’s membership remains.
“Thank you, Mr. President, for hosting this historic summit at an important time. The first time that NATO leaders will meet, 31, together, and looking forward to meeting very soon with 32 members with the addition of Sweden,” Biden said as he began a bilateral meeting with summit host Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda.
“I am confident we’ll get that done,” Biden added.
The leaders gather here in Vilnius, Lithuania, for a two-day summit that could become one of the most consequential gatherings for the alliance in modern history, coming about a month into Ukraine’s slow counteroffensive and weeks after a failed mutiny in Russia became a major threat to President Vladimir Putin’s leadership.
While national security experts had warned that a failure to admit Sweden to NATO could portend cracks in the alliance, Monday evening’s announcement – which came just hours after Biden landed in the Lithuanian capital city – marks a stunning about-face from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has blocked the accession bid for more than a year.
In the official communiqué from the summit, the leaders also attempted to tackle the question of how Ukraine will enter the alliance.
The final document removes one barrier for Ukraine’s acceptance into NATO – a Membership Action Plan – because Kyiv is now “increasingly interoperable and politically integrated with the Alliance, and has made substantial progress on its reform path.” It also established a new NATO-Ukraine Council for joint consultations on Ukrainian security amidst Russia’s invasion.
However, the document does not answer Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s most pressing request: An official timeline for when Ukraine will become a member of NATO. NATO allies will invite Ukraine to join the military alliance “when conditions are met,” the group’s chief Jens Stolt