VILNIUS – Follow along for updates on the summit of the NATO military alliance in Lithuania's capital:
What to know:
— Turkey’s decision to end opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership boosts summit
— Sweden’s rocky road from neutrality toward NATO membership
— What is NATO doing to help Ukraine in the war with Russia?
— Ukraine, defense plans and Sweden’s membership top summit agenda
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy received a hero’s welcome at a concert in Lithuania’s capital where he arrived Tuesday to meet with NATO leaders.
Instead of going straight to the military alliance’s summit in Vilnius, Zelenskyy stopped in the city’s downtown where thousands of people had gathered for a concert organized by civil society groups in support of Ukraine.
Zelenskyy stepped onto the stage with his wife to loud cheers. When he opened his speech with the Ukrainian national salute “Glory to Ukraine!” the audience delivered back the traditional Ukrainian response “Glory to the heroes!”
The Ukrainian president, who was to meet with NATO leaders Wednesday, had earlier expressed deep frustration that the alliance was providing no firm timetable for when his country could join, calling that “absurd.” In his emotional speech in downtown Vilnius, Zelenskyy appealed for a clear pathway and timeline for Ukraine.
“Today I started my journey with faith in solutions, with faith in strong partners, with faith in NATO … in a NATO that does not hesitate, that does not waste time and does not look over their backs at any aggressor,” Zelenskyy said.
“I would like this faith to become confidence, confidence in the decisions that we deserve, all of us, every soldier, every citizen, every mother, every child,” he said. “Is that too much to ask?”
Zelenskyy later listened to a singer performing Ukraine’s national anthem. The crowd featured both Lithuanians and Ukrainians, some waving Ukrainian flags or carrying sunflowers – Ukraine’s national flower.
Ukrainian war refugee Dasha Boiko watched the event with her son and daughter.
“We came from Dnipro after our homes were destroyed and were met here with warmth and care,” she said. “Seeing our president speaking here in the square of this beautiful free country makes me believe that my homeland will prevail and will also be peaceful and free soon.”
NATO allies pledged Tuesday to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on their national military budgets but set no timeframe for achieving the goal.
After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the organization agreed to halt spending cuts they had made after the Cold War and move toward spending 2% of GDP on defense within a decade.
At their summit in Lithuania, the leaders set that percentage as a floor, rather than a ceiling for spending. But only 11 of the 31 NATO member countries are likely to reach that goal this year, according to the alliance’s latest estimates.
In a summit statement, the leaders agreed that “in many cases, expenditure beyond 2% of GDP will be needed in order to remedy existing shortfalls and meet the requirements across all domains arising from a more contested security order.”
The United States has for years exhorted its allies to boost defense spending. Former President Donald Trump even threatened to abandon those countries that failed to boost their budgets, raising deep concern about the U.S. commitment to NATO’s collective security guarantee, which says that an attack on one ally will be considered an attack on them all.
The leaders also committed to spend at least 20% of their defense budgets “on major equipment, including related research and development.”
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas says NATO leaders made a “good compromise” on how to deal with Ukraine’s ambition to join the alliance though she understands that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is disappointed.
Allies showed that “there’s a clear willingness to have Ukraine in NATO,” Kallas told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius.
“Of course it takes time,” she said. “But when the conditions are met and the opportunity window opens for a short period of time, then we can move on with the membership.”
Zelenskyy said it was “absurd” to not even provide a timeline for when Ukraine can be invited.
“I understand the frustration of President Zelenskyy,” Kallas said, but added that “nobody wants this war to go any further than it is right now.”
Inviting Ukraine to join NATO before the war is over would essentially put the alliance in direct conflict with Russia.
“So what we are doing is supporting Ukraine with all the military aid we can give them so that they can defend themselves and push back Russia to Russia,” Kallas said. “And when Russia is in Russia, there is room for sustainable peace and also an opportunity window to join NATO.”
A U.S. Senator says that the Biden administration is offering to provide Greece with some tactical weaponry amid concerns in Congress that Turkey — a longtime rival but fellow NATO member — will get too many concessions as Washington seeks its support for Sweden’s bid to join the alliance.
The proposal comes as the U.S. tries to coax Turkey — a key holdout in Sweden’s bid to join NATO — to green-light the Scandinavian country’s candidacy at the NATO summit in Lithuania on Tuesday.
Back in Washington, administration officials also were trying to appease concerns from some members of Congress who argue that Turkey’s human rights record and other concerns were reasons not to negotiate with Ankara.
Turkey has asked to buy 40 new F-16s from the United States as well as kits to upgrade its existing fleet. Both U.S. and Turkish officials have maintained any such sale isn’t linked to Sweden’s NATO bid.
The main roadblock came this week from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J, who said he continued to have reservations about approving the sale of fighter aircraft to Turkey.
In order to get Menendez on board, the U.S. offered to provide Greece with unspecified tactical weaponry to defend from any future Turkish incursion, according to a Democratic senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
— By Farnoush Amiri in Washington
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday but remained mum on the deal to advance Sweden’s membership in NATO.
Although Biden made a reference to “the agreement you reached yesterday,” Erdogan said nothing about it. Turkey has been the primary obstacle to Sweden joining the alliance, but NATO announced on Monday night that Erdogan agreed to forward the issue to his country’s parliament.
It was a conspicuous omission from Erdogan, who has not commented on the issue publicly during the summit.
However, Erdogan appeared eager to develop his relationship with Biden. He said previous meetings were “mere warm ups, but now we are initiating a new process.”
Mentioning next year’s presidential election, Erdogan told Biden that he wanted “to take this opportunity to wish you the best of luck.”
Biden responded, “I look forward to meeting with you the next five years.”
The NATO chief says alliance leaders on Tuesday agreed to allow Ukraine to join “when allies agree and conditions are met” — after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy blasted the organization’s failure to set a timetable for Ukrainian membership.
“We reaffirmed Ukraine will become a member of NATO and agreed to remove the requirement for a membership action plan,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at the alliance's summit in Lithuania, referring to a key step in joining NATO.
“This will change Ukraine’s membership path from a two-step path to a one-step path,” he said, adding that Ukraine would join “when allies agree and conditions are met.”
With no consensus among the 31 allies to admit Ukraine into NATO’s ranks, despite many members funneling arms and ammunition to Zelenskyy’s forces, the leaders decided to remove obstacles on Ukraine’s membership path so that it can join more quickly once the war with Russia is over.
Asked about Zelenskyy’s concerns, Stoltenberg said the most important thing now is to ensure that his country wins the war, because “unless Ukraine prevails there is no membership to be discussed at all.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Ukrainian leader said it was “absurd” that no timetable has been laid out for his country to be invited to join NATO or become a member one day.
The Kremlin’s spokesman says Moscow is keeping close watch on decisions made at the NATO summit, and will analyze them to “take measures aimed at ensuring our security.”
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Dmitry Peskov acknowledged Turkey's decision to move ahead with ratifying Sweden's membership in the Western military alliance would have implications for Russia. He said the Russian government would implement countermeasures but did not say what they were.
But Peskov said Moscow would continue to cooperate when it sees fit with Turkey, which has cast itself as an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine. He says that while Russia and Turkey have disagreements, they also share common interests.
The Kremlin spokesman also repeated Moscow's claim that NATO’s relentless eastward expansion after the end of the Cold War was “one of the reasons that led to the current situation” — a reference to Russia’s military action in Ukraine.
Many alliance members have countered that they were forced to bulk up their defenses in the wake of Russian incursions in places like Georgia and Ukraine.
Peskov reiterated a warning against NATO putting Ukraine on a fast-track to membership. The Kremlin has argued that Ukraine joining NATO would lead to a direct confrontation between the alliance and Russia.
“Potentially, it’s very dangerous for European security. It carries very big risks,” Peskov said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says it's “absurd” that no timetable has been laid out for his country to be invited to join NATO or become a member one day.
Zelenskyy said on Twitter that he plans to discuss NATO’s “uncertainty” over Ukraine’s possible membership during the alliance's summit in Vilnius, Lithuania's capital.
He says the Ukrainian delegation to the summit starting Tuesday had “received signals that certain wording" under discussion deals with the prospect of NATO inviting Ukraine to become a member, "not about Ukraine’s membership.”
Zelenskyy called it "unprecedented and absurd” that a time frame hasn't been set, either for an invitation or Ukrainian membership.
“It seems there is no readiness either to invite Ukraine to NATO or to make it a member of the alliance,” the president said.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says he wants NATO to show “demonstrable progress” at the summit on Ukraine’s membership.
"I’ve always said that Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO," Sunak told reporters during his flight to Vilnius.
France will deliver deep-strike missiles as part of increased efforts to help Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russian forces, French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday.
France has been weighing whether to send Scalp missiles to Ukraine. They are the French counterpart of Britain’s Storm Shadow missiles, which the U.K. already sent to Ukraine.
Macron said upon arriving at the NATO summit in Vilnius, “We have decided to deliver new deep-strike missiles to Ukraine” as part of beefed-up military support. The French leader did not specify which missiles, or say when or how many would be supplied.
Macron said the decision was made “in view of the situation and the counteroffensive being led by Ukraine” against Russian forces. He said in May that the longer-range Scalp missiles could help the counteroffensive, which is in its early stages.
A French government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, confirmed that Macron was referring to Scalp missiles.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the French move “an erroneous decision fraught with consequences for the Ukrainian side, as naturally, this will force us to take countermeasures.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says the European Union’s future relations with Turkey will reflect its status as an “important partner,” but he isn’t elaborating on what that would entail.
NATO officials said Monday that Turkey agreed to ratify Sweden's membership in the Western military alliance, removing one of the last major roadblocks to the Nordic country joining NATO.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked his country's support to Turkey's long-stalled bid to join the European Union. Scholz and others have rejected a connection.
Speaking as he arrived Tuesday at the two-day NATO summit in Vilnius, Scholz called Turkey “an important partner for us” and said he would speak with Erdogan during the event.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said it’s important to keep seeking cooperation with Ankara. He said Erdogan's decision on Sweden “shows that if one talks to Turkey, one finds solutions.”
“We haven’t already always had the easiest relations with Turkey, but we shouldn’t turn our backs on Turkey, otherwise it will find other partners,” Bettel said.
Germany has announced a package of further military aid for Ukraine that includes 40 extra Marder armored personnel carriers, another 25 old Leopard 1 tanks and two Patriot defense missile launching devices.
The German Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Germany also would give Ukraine another 20,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, 5,000 rounds of smoke ammunition, a reconnaissance and drone-defense package and a Luna drone system. There will also be five armored recovery vehicles.
Germany, already one of the biggest providers of military aid to Ukraine, put the value of the latest package at nearly 700 million euros ($768 million).
German officials had promised a substantial new military aid pledge at the NATO summit in Vilnius but made clear their continued reluctance to agree to Ukraine's request for Taurus long-range cruise missiles.
Lithuania and several of its allies have beefed up security for the NATO summit, with as many as 12,000 troops backed by warships, air defense systems and artillery deployed for the two-day meeting.
Lithuanian authorities say almost 50 foreign delegations with 2,400 representatives are gathering in Vilnius, including 40 presidents or prime ministers and up to 150 other high-ranking politicians.
Germany supplied Patriot missile defense for the summit that starts Tuesday, while Spain provided short- to medium-range NASAM ground systems.
The summit in Lithuania's capital is being held about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the border with Russian ally Belarus, where the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was granted refuge following a short-lived revolt against the Russian authorities last month.
Border control measures were introduced last week at major airports, sea ports and on land borders with Lithuania's fellow European Union members Poland and Latvia.
Meanwhile, NATO warships are patrolling off the coast of Lithuania, including vessels from Germany, the United States, Italy and Poland, according to the commander of Lithuania’s navy, Giedrius Premeneckas.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has urged all NATO members to meet the alliance’s target of spending the equivalent of 2% of national economic output on defense.
According to new NATO estimates released last week, 11 of the 31 member countries will reach that target this year.
As the Western alliance's annual summit opened in Lithuania's capital on Tuesday, Sunak said Britain was devoting “record amounts” to defense, in part to make its industry “ready for the challenges ahead.”
“And that’s something we need to see across NATO, starting with meeting the 2% commitment,” he said.
After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO members committed to move toward spending 2% of gross domestic product on national military budgets within a decade. They are expected during this week's summit to set that level as a minimum target — a floor rather than a ceiling.
Sunak said NATO members “have witnessed the most terrible crimes and human tragedies in Ukraine” since Russia invaded its neighbor 16 1/2 months ago. He says the alliance has “come together like never before in support of Ukraine and with firm determination that Russia cannot succeed.”
Hungary’s foreign minister says his country’s ratification of Sweden’s bid to join NATO is just a “technical matter” after Turkey’s president indicated he would his country's opposition to the Scandinavian country joining the alliance.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Peter Szijjarto wrote that the Hungarian government's position on Sweden “is clear: the government supports NATO membership, which is why we tabled a proposal to this effect in Parliament many months ago. It is now only a technical matter to complete the ratification process.”
Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO members that haven't yet ratified Sweden's accession documents.
Hungarian President Katalin Novak tweeted that she has asked Prime Minister Viktor Orban “to do everything possible to ensure that the #Hungarian Parliament also contributes to the enlargement of the defense #Alliance as soon as possible.”