'NATO maintains the upper hand'

NATO leaders gathered Wednesday to launch a highly symbolic new forum for ties with Ukraine, after committing to provide the country with more military assistance for fighting Russia but only vague assurances of future membership.

Hi there, I'm Nicole with the latest news on the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the new NATO-Ukraine Council, a permanent body where the 31 allies and Ukraine can hold consultations and call for meetings in emergency situations.

On Tuesday, the leaders said in their communique summarizing the summit's conclusions that Ukraine can join “when allies agree and conditions are met." Zelenskyy, in a tweet, called it "unprecedented and absurd" for the military alliance not to have a concrete timeframe to extend an invitation to Ukraine. Ukraine's leader slammed the "conditions" placed on NATO's consideration of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy, who had threatened to skip the NATO summit, arrived in Lithuania on Tuesday for the meeting, addressing a public crowd of supporters of his war-torn nation alongside Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attend a joint press conference on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 12, 2023.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attend a joint press conference on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 12, 2023.

He spent Wednesday morning meeting with key allies in Vilnius, including the leaders of Germany, Canada and the U.K., and will deliver remarks at a news conference alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg early in the afternoon. Zelenskky will join Biden and other leaders shortly after at the inaugural meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council.

“As long as NATO membership remains attractive to Ukraine, NATO maintains the upper hand in both its relationship with Ukraine and its dealings with Russia," Mary Kate Schneider, director of global studies at Loyola University Maryland, told USA TODAY. She said a NATO offer of admission now would limit Ukraine's incentive to strengthen its democratic institutions, an area in which "the country has much work to do."

More news to know about Russia-Ukraine:

  • Biden has expressed reluctance with inviting Ukraine to join NATO before the war is over, calling the discussion "premature." The White House said Wednesday that Ukraine "still needs to make a number of reforms" in order to become a member.

  • NATO members' pledge to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense, which began after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, was renewed Tuesday but with no timeframe for getting there. NATO estimates that only 11 of the 31 member countries will reach that target this year.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that Ukraine would be “defenseless” without the controversial cluster munitions the U.S. has agreed to supply over the objections of some allies.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'NATO maintains the upper hand'