Turkey, previously opposed to Sweden’s application to join NATO, reversed its stance after discussions in Lithuania, coinciding with Joe Biden’s visit to Vilnius. In a joint statement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg announced the breakthrough. Erdogan expressed his intention to urge Turkish MPs to ratify Sweden’s membership application swiftly. Biden, responding to the news, hinted at a deal concerning F-16 fighter jets for Turkey, stating his willingness to collaborate with Erdogan on bolstering defense in the Euro-Atlantic area. Earlier, Erdogan had linked his withdrawal of opposition to Sweden’s membership with the revival of long-dormant EU accession talks.
These developments unfolded as Biden arrived in Lithuania, where Ukraine also seeks NATO membership. Upon landing in Vilnius and being greeted by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda, Biden faced another controversy. Washington’s decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine, despite a ban by over 100 nations, sparked international outcry. Concerns were voiced by countries such as Britain, Canada, Spain, and New Zealand, with even top Democrats criticizing the White House’s move. However, in an interview with CNN, Biden defended the decision, asserting that cluster bombs would assist Ukraine in repelling Russian forces and compensating for ammunition shortages. Inadvertently, the president also acknowledged that the United States itself was low on shells.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine also sought guarantees of eventual membership, a prospect currently denied by Biden due to the ongoing conflict. Nonetheless, NATO officials announced a fast-track application process, eliminating the requirement for Ukraine to participate in the Membership Action Plan. This decision, celebrated by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Twitter, marked a diplomatic breakthrough for Ukraine ahead of Zelensky’s attendance at the summit in Lithuania. While an official invitation to join NATO was deemed untimely due to Russia’s invasion, concrete steps toward membership were expected to be outlined during the summit.
A proposed Kyiv Security Compact, resembling shadow NATO membership, was put forward by former NATO chief Ander Fogh Rasmussen and his chief of staff Andriy Yermak. The compact would involve the participation of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Poland, Italy, Germany, France, Australia, Turkey, as well as Baltic, Central, and Eastern European countries. Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO membership date back to 2008, but formal proceedings were never initiated to avoid provoking Russia. Under Article 5 of NATO’s mutual defense treaty, an attack on any member is considered an attack on all, though unanimous approval from all NATO countries is required to activate the clause. This has only occurred once in the alliance’s history, following the 9/11 attacks and George W. Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan.
During the Vilnius meeting, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was expected to urge all NATO allies to meet the agreed 2 percent GDP defense spending target. Currently, only 11 countries fulfill this commitment: the United States, Britain, Poland, Greece, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Romania, Hungary, Latvia, and Slovakia. In response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Poland recently announced plans to increase defense spending to 4 percent by the year’s end.