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Leaders Agree to Expedite Ukraine's NATO Membership

NATO leaders agreed to a package that will ultimately make Ukraine a member of the alliance, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference today.

Stoltenberg spoke at the end of the first day's discussions at the Vilnius NATO Summit in Lithuania.

At the meeting, NATO Heads of State and Government welcomed Finland as a full-fledged member of the alliance. Stoltenberg also said the leaders look forward to Sweden joining the alliance in the coming days. Stoltenberg negotiated an agreement with Turkey and Hungary that broke the logjam over the Scandinavian nation joining NATO.

But Ukraine was the focus of the first day. The secretary general said the allies have agreed to a three-element package that will bring Ukraine closer to NATO.

The leaders agreed to a new multi-year assistance program for Ukraine to speed up the transition from Soviet-era doctrines and equipment to NATO standards. The nation was well on its way to ditching the Soviet-era training and equipment even before the second Russian invasion. This new package will "help rebuild Ukraine's security and defense sector, and to cover critical needs like fuel, demining equipment and medical supplies," Stoltenberg said.

Two men shake hands amongst a crowd of people.
NATO Summit
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III shakes hands with NATO Military Committee Chairman Adm. Rob Bauer, of the Royal Netherlands Navy, at the NATO Summit in Vilnius. Lithuania.
Photo By: NATO photo
VIRIN: 230711-O-D0439-002
 

The second element is establishing a new NATO-Ukraine Council, which will be a forum for crisis consultations and decision-making. All members will meet as equals, Stoltenberg said. "I look forward to having the inaugural meeting of the Council tomorrow with President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy," he said. 

Finally, leaders reaffirmed that Ukraine would become a member of NATO and agreed to remove the requirement for a Membership Action Plan. "This will change Ukraine's membership path from a two-step process to a one-step process," the secretary general said. "We also made it clear that we will issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO when allies agree, and conditions are met."

Alliance leaders also approved the most comprehensive defense plans since the end of the Cold War. "These [plans] are designed to counter the two main threats we face: Russia and terrorism," he said. 

These plans call for 300,000 alliance troops at high readiness, including substantial air and naval power.  

There is also a new defense production action plan, which will accelerate joint procurement, boost interoperability and generate investment and production capacity, Stoltenberg said.

The allies agreed to spend at least 2% of gross domestic product on defense. He noted that European defense spending increased by 8.3% this year. "This is the biggest increase in decades," he said. "Since 2014, they will have invested an extra $450 billion in defense."

Two men speak.
NATO Summit
President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meet at the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Photo By: NATO photo
VIRIN: 230711-O-D0439-001

NATO leaders also addressed China. The secretary general stressed that China is not an adversary, "but Beijing's increasing assertiveness affects our security. China is increasingly challenging the rules-based international order, refusing to condemn Russia's war against Ukraine, threatening Taiwan and carrying out a substantial military build-up." 

In addition, China's nuclear modernization is unprecedented in speed and scale, and being carried out with no transparency. "Allies agreed to continue working together to protect against China's coercive behavior," Stoltenberg said.

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