NATO must decide this year whether to admit Ukraine as a member, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday, intensifying his case, at a summit of European leaders in Moldova, for the country’s accession to the alliance .
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than 15 months ago gave added impetus to the country’s application in September to join NATO, a body scheduled to hold a summit meeting in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, next month.
The government in Kyiv regards membership as the ultimate guarantee of its security. The United States and other NATO allies, while supporting the government in Kyiv with billions of dollars in military aid, have so far proven reluctant to take that step because it could bring the alliance into direct conflict with Moscow.
“This year is for decisions,” Mr. Zelensky said at the European Political Community summit in a castle outside the Moldovan capital. He spoke in English. “In the summer in Vilnius at the NATO summit, a clear invitation from the members of Ukraine is needed, and security guarantees on the way to NATO membership are needed.” His comments were Reuters reported.
Few expect concrete progress at the one-day summit of 47 leaders.
But the gathering – a forum for almost all European leaders – sought to show Western unity in defiance of the Kremlin’s calculation that political and economic fatigue would erode support for Ukraine. Russia and its close ally, Belarus, were not invited and Turkey’s newly elected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, chose not to attend.
Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister, said the attendance of so many leaders sent “a signal that multilateralism really works, and also that we are behind Moldova and we are behind Ukraine.” The West, he added, needs to show President Vladimir V. Putin that he cannot wait for Ukraine and the West. “Once Putin realizes and Russia realizes that they made a mistake in the war in Ukraine, the war will be over.”
Thursday’s meeting had a loose agenda, focusing on issues such as fostering political dialogue and strengthening security, stability and prosperity, according to a forum description on a European Union website.
Some analysts doubted its value, not least given the conflicts within Europe over the war. But others argue that, while the European Political Community is new – the first meeting was held in October – it could provide opportunities for dialogue.
Coming to the summit, Mr. Zelensky said that security guarantees are also important for Moldova. The war in Ukraine and its economic collapse have reverberated through the Eastern European country, which has drawn large numbers of Ukrainian refugees.
Moldova faces growing pressure on its leadership, and this year President Maia Sandu accused Russia of trying to topple her government through protests organized by pro-Russian forces.
“I think security guarantees are very important, not only for Ukraine. For all neighbors,” Mr. Zelensky told reporters after a meeting with Ms. Sandu. “What is very important – our future in the EU and NATO,” he said. Ukraine took some of its first steps toward European Union membership about a decade ago.
Mr. Zelensky, who spent the first months after the attack in Kyiv in a show of defiance, has traveled extensively in Europe in recent weeks and attended a summit of Group of 7 leaders in Japan last month. At every forum, he pressed his case for more military and diplomatic support for his country.
Ukraine, however, was not the only issue discussed at the summit.
The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are also expected to meet at the summit in the latest round of talks focused on a long-running dispute over their common border and the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Discussions on the issues have also been held outside Washington and in Brussels in recent weeks.
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, who led the negotiations, said before the summit that the two leaders “have made some progress and I hope that today is an occasion to confirm a common political will to make relations between the two countries are normal,” according to a Reuters report.
Andrew Higgins contributed reporting.