NATO leaders have rallied behind Ukraine, assuring it eventual NATO membership. But the question of when Ukraine can join still remains unanswered, to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's frustration.
Still, assurances made at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania show a path forward for Ukraine's defense. Alongside fellow members of the G7 alliance, U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled a declaration that promises military support to Ukraine.
"We’re going to help Ukraine build a strong defense across land, air, and sea," Biden said, adding that the declaration initiates a process in which G7 members and other willing nations can "negotiate long term bilateral security commitments with and to Ukraine."
This promise, however, was delivered without an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO, as leaders remain divided on whether to extend the offer any time soon. Germany and the U.S. are particularly concerned that the move would invite further conflict for the alliance.
"It’s a commitment that we’ve all made no matter what. If the war is going on, then we’re all in war," President Biden told CNN. "We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case."
At the summit, activist Daria Kaleniuk contested NATO's hesitance. "What should I tell my son? That President Biden and NATO didn’t invite Ukraine to NATO because he’s afraid of Russia?" she asked U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
NATO also agreed to waive the Membership Action Plan, a series of requirements for prospective members, in order for Ukraine to eventually join. Some members, including Britain, the Baltic states, and Poland, expressed support for Ukraine's demands.
Though Zelensky left saying "the results of the summit are good," promises that were made at the summit fell short of expectations. For many Ukrainians, it gave “the feeling that we are alone, that we have to fight by ourselves," security analyst Taras Tarasiuk told NBC News.
"A window of opportunity is being left to bargain Ukraine's membership in Nato in negotiations with Russia. Uncertainty is weakness," Zelensky previously tweeted, worrying that Ukraine's status could be used against them.
Biden expressed sympathy for Ukraine's frustrations, promising that support would come to them well before they join the alliance.
"Mr. Zelensky and I talked about the kind of guarantees we could make in the meantime," Biden told CNN. "We’re going to provide security to Ukraine for its needs and against any aggression that may occur."
In a show of gratitude for NATO leaders, Zelensky expressed that the summit provided some solace.
"I think by the end of summit, we have great unity from our leaders and the security guarantees," Zelensky told POLITICO. "That is a success for this summit, I think so."