NATO‘s two-day annual summit ended with a predictably disappointing result for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: agreement that Ukraine will join the military alliance but still no date for his country’s accession.

“Ukraine is closer to NATO membership than ever before,” insisted Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s General Secretary today, but again he offered no timeline. Instead, Stoltenberg pointed to the creation of a Ukraine-Nato council, where they will meet “to discuss and decide as equals”. 

“We will issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO when allies agree that conditions are met,” the Nato chief added, while also highlighting that Ukraine’s future accession to NATO has been made simpler by the alliance’s decision to waive the normally-obligatory Membership Action Plan (MAP) and change Ukraine’s membership from a two-step process to a one-step process.

While it’s not the conclusion Zelensky hoped for, the Ukrainian leader struck a more conciliatory tone this afternoon. After slamming NATO’s lack of a clear timetable only yesterday as “absurd”, a good night’s sleep and a Lithuanian breakfast appear to have softened him. 

Indeed, Zelensky welcomed the creation of a NATO-Ukraine council, saying it gives Ukraine the “institutional certainty” it needs and he thanked the alliance for its security guarantees and for dropping the requirement for a membership action plan. While he reiterated that the Ukrainian people need specifics about the conditions of joining the alliance, he added that it was “understandable” that NATO couldn’t grant Ukraine immediate and clear accession. 

Zelensky is toeing a fine line. As we’ve seen before with the demand for fighter jets, his unrelenting requests often prompt allies to redraw their red lines. But he cannot risk alienating them by becoming too pushy – or giving the impression that he is taking Western support for granted. 

Only today, the UK’s Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, normally one of Ukraine’s most ardent supporters, ruffled some blue and yellow feathers by urging Zelensky to show more “gratitude” for the aid Western powers have given them. 

In a blunt intervention, Ben Wallace said his “counsel” to the Ukrainians was to keep in mind that they need to persuade some doubting politicians in Washington and other capitals that the tens of billions of pounds they are spending on military aid to their country for its war with Russia is worthwhile.

Wallace, who recently pulled out of the running for the NATO top job, also spoke of a meeting last year with the Ukrainians. After driving for 11 hours, only to be presented with a shiny new wishlist of ammunitions, guns, tanks etc, Wallace apparently had to say: “I’m not Amazon.”

When asked whether Wallace’s comments would strain Sunak’s relationship with Zelensky, the British PM was eager to dispel any potential rumours of ingratitude on the part of his Ukrainian friend. Sunak insisted that Zelensky was “enormously grateful” for the international aid and had called the Vilnius summit a “meaningful success” for the Ukrainian people.

Despite the disappointment over the timing of Ukraine’s membership, Zelensky was also offered a considerable amount of new pledges from his allies.

Germany said it would give 12 billion euros in military support until 2032, 3.2 billion of which would be spent this year. France said it would join Britain in providing long-range missiles and the Brits have promised 70 logistical and combat vehicles, ammunition for Challenger 2 tanks and £50 million to help repair equipment. Joe Biden said the US might adopt a similar model to the one it uses to provide military support to Isreal, which it gives $3.5 billion per year – sparking speculation as to what the American figure would eventually be. Norway has also pledged to increase its financial support of Ukraine from 2.5 billion crowns ($239 million) this year to 10 billion. 

In light of these pledges, it looks like the Vilnius summit has gone as far as it can, for now. Perhaps Stoltenberg summed up the summit’s progress best. Sharing a picture of him shaking hands with Zelensky, he wrote: “Today we meet as equals; I look forward to the day we meet as Allies.”

Yet Ukraine’s great fear now is that this latest promise by Nato leaders will slip away in the same way that the pledge made by George W Bush in April 2008 disappeared, when he said that Ukraine – and Georgia – should be allowed to join the alliance. As John Bolton, former national security adviser to ex-president Trump, said in an interview on Radio 4 today, Zelensky will be worried that this turns out to be Groundhog Day – a promise that keeps on repeating itself.

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