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European lawmakers want Ukraine to have a pathway to NATO membership

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Biden administration says that NATO members will be united in their support for Ukraine when the alliance holds a summit next month. But some members want the Western allies to do more than that and offer Ukraine a real pathway to join NATO. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Lithuanian lawmaker and former ambassador to the U.S. Zygimantas Pavilionis says the NATO summit in his country will be a big test. He was at the 2008 summit in Bucharest, when NATO agreed that both Ukraine and Georgia would become members. But the alliance refused to give either country a clear pathway to membership so as not to provoke Russia.

ZYGIMANTAS PAVILIONIS: Actually, non-enlargement of NATO provoked war in Georgia, in Ukraine, because we created gray zones. We signaled to Russia and Bucharest that we have no clue what to do in Ukraine and Georgia, though those nations are fighting and dying for our values; you know, those countries are up for grabs.

KELEMEN: Pavilionis is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in Lithuania's parliament. He came to Washington, along with his counterparts from Denmark, Poland and Estonia, saying the alliance needs to tell Russia's Vladimir Putin that there will be no more gray zones in Europe.

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PAVILIONIS: And the sooner we express it clearly in Vilnius, the sooner the Russians get this collective message of unity. This will be the end of war.

KELEMEN: The Biden administration has just announced another $325 million in security assistance to Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Washington that he believes the support is paying off on the battlefield as Ukraine carries out a counteroffensive against Russia's occupying forces.

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JENS STOLTENBERG: And Ukrainians are making progress, making advances. It's still early days. But what we do know is that the more land Ukrainians are able to liberate, the stronger hand they will have at the negotiating table and also the more likely it will be that President Putin, at some stage, will understand that he will never win this war.

KELEMEN: In public, neither he nor President Biden addressed the issue of NATO membership for Ukraine, and the lawmakers who are visiting from Europe understand that this is a long-term proposition. But Estonia's Marko Mihkelson says he believes that giving Ukraine a clear pathway to join is the only way to restore stability in Europe.

MARKO MIHKELSON: This is a biggest geopolitical battle in in the world since the end of World War II. And we have to understand that this is not only about the fate of Ukraine or Ukrainian nation, but also about our security architecture - transatlantic, Euro-Atlantic security architecture. Russia is trying to destroy NATO.

KELEMEN: The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Denmark's parliament, Michael Aastrup Jensen, is hoping that Americans can rally behind this despite the divided politics in Washington.

MICHAEL AASTRUP JENSEN: U.S. has been a world leader for so many years, and if we still want to uphold that world order, that is not China, it's not Russia that decides; but it's the free world, then we need leadership right now. And that's, I think, one of the messages that we try to convey to our American friends.

KELEMEN: He says he was glad that the Biden administration recently agreed to allow countries like Denmark to provide Ukraine with F-16s. But he adds, it took too long, and it was too late to help with Ukraine's counteroffensive.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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