NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg outlined steps for Ukraine to join the multi-nation defense pact but stopped short of offering a timeline of when the nation could join NATO.
The lack of a timeline upset Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who expressed his frustration on Tuesday during the summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
"It’s unprecedented and absurd when 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," he wrote. "It seems there is no readiness neither to invite Ukraine to NATO nor to make it a member of the Alliance. This means that a window of opportunity is being left to bargain Ukraine's membership in NATO in negotiations with Russia. And for Russia, this means motivation to continue its terror."
Stoltenberg said NATO agreed to a multi-year assistance program that includes covering needs such as fuel, demining equipment and medical supplies. Stoltenberg also noted that members agreed to remove the Membership Action Plan requirement.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan wouldn't put a timetable on when Ukraine could join NATO, but said the assistance is substantive.
"Bringing Ukraine into the Alliance now, here in Vilnius, would bring NATO into war with Russia," Sullivan said. "Also Ukraine has further steps to take along its reform path. But Allies will send a united positive signal on Ukraine's path to future membership in the Alliance."
NATO also formed a NATO-Ukraine Council, which will welcome Zelenskyy on Wednesday.
Without a unanimous body, however, Ukraine is on the outside looking in on the pact.
"We also made it clear that we will issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO when Allies agree and conditions are met," Stoltenberg said. "This is a strong package for Ukraine. And a clear path towards its membership in NATO."
Stoltenberg said NATO plans to have 300,000 troops at "high readiness" if Russia were to attack a NATO nation.
A major part of NATO is an agreement that all members come to a country's defense if attacked by another country. To date, the only time Article 5 of NATO has been invoked was following the attack on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
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