VILNIUS — The NATO summit entered its second and final day today, with a key focus on Ukraine. President Joe Biden will be meeting with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and participate in the inaugural gathering of the Ukraine-NATO Council. The day will also include a speech by President Biden and his subsequent travel to Helsinki.
The NATO-Ukraine council meeting faced a delay, pushing the start time to 1:30 p.m. As journalists awaited the leaders’ arrival, they were positioned on risers, facing a crescent table at the center of the room, surrounded by smaller desks. At the head of the table sat NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, with President Biden seated to his right. Alongside Biden were the seats for UK PM Rishi Sunak and President Zelenskyy.
Amid high expectations, President Zelenskyy sought a clear timeline for Ukraine’s NATO membership during the summit. However, the outcome fell short of his hopes, as he received positive words of support, increased military assistance, and new security guarantees instead.
Expressing his views on the matter, President Zelenskyy acknowledged the limitations due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. He remarked, “We understand that some are afraid of talking about our membership now because nobody is willing to have a world war, which is logical.”
The Ukrainian president’s tone appeared more conciliatory compared to the previous day when he referred to the lack of a firm timeline on membership as “absurd.” While he acknowledged the support received from NATO, Zelenskyy expressed his hope for a direct invitation to join the military alliance, considering it the “optimum” outcome from the summit.
NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg reiterated the alliance’s commitment to Ukraine, assuring that they would stand with the country “for as long as it takes.” He also suggested that Ukraine was now considered “equal” to member countries in the eyes of NATO.
Zelenskyy said that meeting with Rishi Sunak was “third success for Ukraine at the summit today.”
After a press conference held by Zelenskyy and Stoltenberg at another location within the summit, attendees made their way into the meeting room for the council gathering. At precisely 1:41 p.m., President Biden made his entrance and approached a cluster of individuals comprising Sunak, Frederiksen, Stoltenberg, and various others. The leaders engaged in mingling and photo opportunities, displaying amiable expressions and exchanging handshakes. An intriguing moment occurred when Biden affectionately draped his arm around Sunak’s shoulder. Subsequently, at 1:52 p.m., Zelenskyy arrived and shook hands with President Biden, participating in a series of photographs with him and other participants.
During the interval before the leaders’ arrival, the Ukrainian flag was ceremoniously placed alongside the British Union Jack, aligning with the row of NATO member flags in the meeting room.
Following these preliminary proceedings, Stoltenberg delivered succinct remarks, commencing with an acknowledgement that this marked the inaugural occasion of such a meeting. He expressed the purpose of the gathering as the collective examination of security matters. Furthermore, Stoltenberg praised Zelenskyy, lauding his audacity by stating, “We are inspired by your courage.”
Emphasizing the equality among attendees, Stoltenberg proclaimed, “Today we meet as equals.”