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NATO pledges its support for Ukraine, but gives it no timeline for membership

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Heads of state from 31 countries have wrapped up their annual NATO meeting in Lithuania. Top of the agenda was Ukraine and whether to let that country join the transatlantic alliance. As he left the capital, Vilnius, President Biden gave a speech addressing the Lithuanian people. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley was there listening to all of it. She's with us now. Hey, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK. Start with the speech from President Biden. What did he have to say? What did he want to say to Lithuanians?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Biden spoke at the university in the old town of Vilnius. There were thousands of people there, and the streets were blocked off around the university. And there were people listening to Biden's speech outside on their cell phones. It was a rousing speech about democracy and freedom and the power of Democratic allies sticking together. Here's a little of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: When Putin and his craven lust for land and power unleashed his brutal war on Ukraine, he was betting NATO would break apart. He was betting NATO would break. He thought our unity would shatter at the first testing. He thought Democratic leaders would be weak. But he thought wrong.

BEARDSLEY: So Biden said Ukraine's allies would not waiver and that the U.S. will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

KELLY: And I guess President Biden also sat down with Ukraine today, or at least with Ukraine's President Zelenskyy. The headline from that was no path to NATO for Ukraine, at least for now.

BEARDSLEY: That's right because of the ongoing war. But Biden said Ukraine's future is in NATO. And as Ukraine moves toward NATO, Biden and the other G7 countries announced a massive program of long-term, bilateral security commitments to help Ukraine defend itself and deter future Russian aggression. Biden said, quote, "we are going to help Ukraine build a strong, capable defense across land, air and sea." You know, Biden and Zelenskyy also sat down together in armchairs for a bilateral meeting. Biden told Zelenskyy the whole world has been impressed by the courage and commitment of the Ukrainian people. Here's a little of what he said there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: When you see a 65-year-old woman on television after her apartment's been bombed out, picking up the pieces and going to help the next-door neighbor, I mean, it's just astounding. You set an example for the whole world of what constitutes genuine courage.

BEARDSLEY: You know, before arriving at the summit, Zelenskyy called not having a timeline for Ukraine to join NATO absurd. But he changed his tone and appeared a lot more grateful today. He thanked NATO allies and Biden and the American people and the U.S. Congress for standing with Ukraine from the very first days of the war.

KELLY: Just briefly, big picture, Eleanor, what else was achieved at this summit?

BEARDSLEY: Well, they've strengthened and enlarged the alliance, which is precisely what Russia did not want. NATO overreach was one of the reasons President Vladimir Putin gave for invading Ukraine. So Sweden is now probably going to join. Turkey lifted its opposition. So there will be 32 members. And the alliance has also agreed to boost defense spending. Whereas 2% of GDP used to be a ceiling, it's now the floor.

KELLY: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley on the ground for us in Vilnius, Lithuania. Thanks so much.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome. 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.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.

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