Zelenskyy's anger over 'absurd' lack of timeline jars NATO summit: Live Ukraine updates

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NATO leaders presented a plan Tuesday for Ukraine to join the military alliance "when Allies agree and conditions are met,'' hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy strongly expressed his opposition to such a vague timeline, calling it "absurd.''

The clashing approaches made for a tense opening to NATO's two-day summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, a day after Turkey lifted its objection to Sweden's accession to the alliance in a major demonstration of apparent unity. Zelenskyy arrived at the meeting after threatening to skip it even though the fortunes of his war-battered nation were taking center stage.

But he didn't hide his displeasure over NATO's reluctance to provide a clearer path for entry.

"It’s unprecedented and absurd when time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine's membership,'' he tweeted. "While at the same time vague wording about 'conditions' is added even for inviting Ukraine.''

He said this leaves Ukraine in a weaker position in future peace negotiations with Russia, which vehemently opposes its neighbor – and the target of its invading forces ‒ becoming part of the alliance. "For Russia, this means motivation to continue its terror,'' Zelenskyy said.

The NATO communique issued Tuesday lauded Ukraine's efforts and signaled broad support for membership − sometime after the war is over. It provided few details and no solid timeline.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that leaders had actually removed requirements, such as a membership action plan, so Ukraine could join more quickly once the war is over.

“This will change Ukraine’s membership path from a two-step path to a one-step path,” he said.

Zelenskyy said he decided to attend the summit out of respect for the alliance, but said "Ukraine also deserves respect." He is scheduled to meet Wednesday with President Joe Biden and other leaders.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) together with his wife Olena Zelenska arrives to deliver a speech at Lukiskiu Square in Vilnius on July 11, 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) together with his wife Olena Zelenska arrives to deliver a speech at Lukiskiu Square in Vilnius on July 11, 2023.


∎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.

∎Ukraine's battlefield technology system is ready to integrate F-16 fighter jets, Ukraine Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov said Tuesday. Ukraine pilots are training to fly the jets, and deliveries of the planes could begin in September.

∎Germany's planned $770 million military aid package for Ukraine will include Patriot missile launchers, tanks, and 20,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, the German media outlet Deutsche Welle reported.

Ukraine wants clear path to NATO, Zelenskyy tells concert crowd: 'Is that too much to ask?'

Before heading to the NATO summit, Zelenskyy received a rock star's welcome from thousands of people at a concert in downtown Vilnius organized by civil society groups to support Ukraine.

In an emotional speech on the concert stage alongside his wife, Zelenskyy repeated the message he had tweeted earlier in the day, calling for a clear path to NATO membership and a timeline for Ukraine.

“Today I started my journey with faith in solutions, with faith in strong partners, with faith in NATO … in a NATO that does not hesitate, that does not waste time and does not look over their backs at any aggressor,” Zelenskyy said.

“I would like this faith to become confidence, confidence in the decisions that we deserve, all of us, every soldier, every citizen, every mother, every child,” he said. “Is that too much to ask?”

Later in the day, Zelenskyy expressed his appreciation for the increased military support the allies have committed to, which includes an unspecified number of long-range Scalp missiles from France as well as 40 Marder armored personnel carriers and other equipment from Germany.

"Our defense is a top priority, and I am grateful to our partners for their willingness to take new steps,'' he tweeted. "More weapons for our warriors, more protection of life for the whole of Ukraine! We will bring new important defense tools to Ukraine.''

Blinken: Ukraine would be defenseless without cluster munitions

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. Blinken, in an interview on MSNBC, reiterated the White House explanation that stockpiles of other munitions were running low in the West and that cluster munitions would fill the gap. Neither the U.S., Ukraine or Russia is among nations that have banned cluster munitions due to the risks they pose to civilians.

"The hard but necessary choice to give them the cluster munitions amounted to this: If we didn’t do it, we don’t do it, then they will run out of ammunition," Blinken said. "If they run out of ammunition, then they will be defenseless.”

Blinken was referring to Ukraine's supply of conventional artillery shells, according to a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Pentagon cannot continue to supply them without depleting U.S. stocks to an unsafe level.

While the Pentagon increases production, the Biden administration approved the shipment of cluster munition shells, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. Ukraine has already been using cluster munitions supplied by allies other than the United States, the official said.

Turkey gets concessions to OK Sweden's bid for NATO

Turkey's decision to stop blocking Sweden's path toward joining NATO, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has yet to acknowledge publicly, required the Nordic country to pledge its help for the Turkish bid to join the EU, and possibly other inducements.

Erdogan's sudden about-face after stonewalling Sweden for several months was announced Monday, the day after he had a long talk with President Joe Biden. Turkey wants to buy 40 new F-16s and kits to upgrade its existing fleet from the U.S., which American and Turkish officials have maintained is not linked to the Sweden NATO vote.

Nonetheless, the Biden administration is trying to allay concerns from some members of Congress about negotiating with Turkey considering its human rights record and other issues. To ease those worries, the U.S. offered to provide Greece with unspecified tactical weaponry to defend from any future incursion by Turkey, its longtime rival, according to a Democratic senator who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Kremlin will take 'necessary measures' as Sweden joins NATO

Moscow is prepared to take unspecified measures to ensure its security "depending on how quickly and extensively" NATO taps into new territory in Sweden and Finland, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday. Finland has formally joined the alliance, and a deal has been struck with NATO holdout Turkey to allow Sweden's accession. Finland shares a border of more than 800 miles with Russia; Sweden and Russia share a maritime border.

"Helsinki and Stockholm are already discussing a variety of issues with the United States that relate to the deployment of the alliance’s infrastructure right on the Russian border," Lavrov said. "The necessary measures (will be taken), we know what these measures should be and how to put them into practice."

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine war updates: Zelenskyy blasts 'absurd' lack of NATO timeline