Zelenskyy welcomes Nato membership progress, says invite would be ‘optimal’

(Update 2: adds info on Biden, Zelenskyy meeting)

Vilnius, Jul 12 (EFE).- Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday said he was pleased that his country’s bid to join Nato would be simplified, but that a formal invitation to join the alliance would be “optimal”.

Speaking alongside Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg in Vilnius, the Ukrainian leader adopted a more conciliatory tone after blasting the alliance a day earlier over “unprecedented and absurd” delays to Kyiv’s accession bid.

“It is important that Ukraine will not need a Membership Action Plan on its way to Nato and and I would like to extend words of gratitude to you Jens for these important steps,” Zelenskyy said after Nato leaders on Tuesday agreed to lift the requirement — meaning Kyiv will not need to demonstrate that it has carried out the military, economic and political reforms required to join.

“We can say that the results of the summit were good but should we receive an invitation (to Nato) they would be optimal,” the Ukrainian president said.

Stoltenberg underscored that Nato would continue to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and assured Zelenskyy that Kyiv was now “closer to Nato than ever before.”

The newly established Nato-Ukraine Council, which is part of a three-part package of support, will put Kyiv and the alliance on an equal footing, the Nato chief said.

Stoltenberg said that the Council would provide a forum to hold crisis consultations and take joint decisions.

“Today, we meet as equals. I look forward to the day we meet as Allies,” Stoltenberg said.

The package will also include a program over several years that will help Ukraine’s military upgrade from Soviet-era equipment to Nato equipment and standards, the Norwegian politician added.

On Tuesday allies agreed that it was “not the time for making Ukraine a full member of the Alliance,” Stoltenberg told reporters, but that once conditions were met, allies would “issue an invitation for Ukraine to join.”

To meet Nato’s conditions Ukraine will have to work on a range of issues, including the modernization of “defense and security institutions, to strengthen their governance, including fighting corruption,” Stoltenberg said.

This is “a strong, united message from Allies on your path to Nato membership,” he added.

The Nato chief welcomed the allies’ plan to provide long-term security guarantees to Ukraine and said “credible arrangements” were necessary to ensure Ukraine’s security when the war ends.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) nations signed a joint declaration pledging their long-term support for Ukraine, which will allow bilateral negotiations to begin on providing military assistance to Kyiv.

According to diplomatic sources, that aid could take the form of weapons deliveries, training for members of Ukraine’s armed forces and sharing intelligence data.

“The decisions made here in Vilnius mark the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between Nato and Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

In a highly anticipated meeting, Zelenskyy also sat down with US president Joe Biden on the sidelines of the summit.

During their meeting, Biden said he could “only imagine” his counterpart’s frustration at the pace of Ukraine’s Nato accession or the delivery of weapons.

“I know that many times you’ve been frustrated about would things gets to you quickly enough, what’s getting to you and how we’re getting there, but i promise you, the US is doing everything we can to get yo everything you need as rapidly as we can get it to you,” Biden said.

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