Divisions among NATO allies over the entry of Ukraine into the mutual defense club were laid bare on Tuesday after President Volodymyr Zelensky blasted allies for failing to set a firm timeline for his nation to join the alliance.
The Ukrainian leader issued his complaints on Twitter after saying his nation would be 'represented' at the summit – amid indications that he would meet with President Joe Biden here, stating the presence would be about 'respect.'
But plans for a united front took a hit after Zelensky expressed his frustration with NATO over a lack of commitment to a timeline for Ukraine to join the alliance.
“But Ukraine also deserves respect. Now, on the way to Vilnius, we received signals that certain wording is being discussed without Ukraine. And I would like to emphasize that this wording is about the invitation to become NATO member, not about Ukraine’s membership,” he said in a tweet.
“It’s unprecedented and absurd when a time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership. While at the same time vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine,” Zelensky noted.
His comments came after President Joe Biden earlier Tuesday vowed in Lithuania to defend 'every inch' of NATO territory, as the powerful alliance took a key step to add its 32nd member, Sweden.
A split-screen summit ensued, with leaders declaring they were acting in concert, following hard-ball negotiations over NATO's next member and requests by Ukraine for military aid amid Russia's bombardment and invasion – while heads of state smiled and gripped at a family photo.
In a move seen as a potential win for the United States, NAtO chief Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement on Monday in a joint statement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Ulf Kristersson.
Erdogan said he would urge Turkish MPs to ratify Sweden's application to join the 31-member mutual defense club 'as soon as possible.'
Several hours of diplomacy preceded the announcement that Turkey wishes to drop its opposition to Stockholm's membership bid in return for reviving long-dead EU accession talks.
The focus on Ukraine comes as Russia continues to stage a defense of its invasion of eastern Ukraine, with the Kremlin expressing its discontent at what is emerging from the summit.
Russian ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov accused Washington of plotting a 'confrontation' with Moscow.
At the top of his first day of official meetings in Vilnius, President Biden met with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, with the two leaders expressing their full commitment to the NAT Charter's mutual defense obligations.
President Biden said he wasn't surprised about Sweden getting in and was asked what had gotten Turkey to agree to Sweden's membership in the alliance.
“What do you think?” Biden said without elaborating.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan then proceeded to dismiss media reports of a possible split between NATO countries over Washington's decision to send controversial cluster bombs to Kyiv's armed forces.
“I would say rumors of the death of NATO's unity were greatly exaggerated,” he said, adding that Vladimir Putin will be 'very much disappointed' by what emerges from the two-day meeting in Lithuania.
Ukraine is seeking interim security guarantees from the U.S. and its allies as it waits to join NATO.
As part of that push for legally-binding protection from future Russian aggression, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will hold talks with Joe Biden on Wednesday.
A paper by ex-NATO chief Ander Fogh Rasmussen and his chief of staff Andriy Yermak last year suggested a Kyiv Security Compact that would effectively shadow NATO membership, to protect the country and its people from future Russian aggression.
It said that it should include the US, Great Britain, Canada, Poland, Italy, Germany, France, Australia, and Turkey, as well as Baltic, Central, and Eastern Europe.
Despite doubts from some nations within the alliance, the transatlantic bloc is remaining unified in its commitment to support Ukraine and ensure the country becomes a member of NATO.
However, a timeline for Ukraine's entry is yet to be established by the alliance as the war with Russia continues.
National Security Advisor Sullivan ruled out any immediate entry for Western-backed Ukraine, given its ongoing war against Russian invasion, saying this would 'bring NATO into a war with Russia.