Britain’s defence secretary and the US national security adviser have suggested Ukraine ought to show more gratitude for the help it has received from the west, in response to Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s complaints that his country has not been issued a firm timetable or set of conditions for joining Nato.
Their unscripted remarks – at two different events on the margins of the second day of the Nato summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius – appeared to prompt a change of tack from the Ukrainian leader on Wednesday, who later said he was “grateful to all leaders of Nato countries” for their support and help.
Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, said that “whether we like it or not, people want to see a bit of gratitude”, when asked about Zelenskiy’s frustration at not being presented with a formal invitation to join Nato, and he advised Ukraine that it might help if it took a different approach.
Presenting his remarks as helpful advice, Wallace said Ukraine had a habit of treating allies, including the UK, as if they were an Amazon warehouse with lists of demands for weapons – and was not always careful to try to win over more sceptical politicians in the US Congress and elsewhere.
“Sometimes you’re persuading countries to give up their own stocks [of munitions],” Wallace said. “Sometimes you’ve got to persuade lawmakers on the Hill in America. You’ve got to persuade doubting politicians in other countries that, you know, that it’s worthwhile.”
Wallace said it was not the first time he had spoken to Kyiv about this. “I told them that last year, when I drove 11 hours to be given a list, that I’m not like Amazon,” he said, and he observed that Ukraine had a habit of, once it had obtained one type of weapon, immediately starting to lobby for another.
Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, argued that “the American people do deserve a degree of gratitude”, in response to a pointed question from a Ukrainian activist who asked if Joe Biden was withholding Nato membership because he was “afraid of Russia losing, afraid of Ukraine winning”.
Sullivan, clearly irritated, said: “The United States of America has stepped up to provide an enormous amount of capacity to help ensure that Ukraine’s brave soldiers have the ammunition, air defence, the infantry, fighting vehicles, the mine-clearing equipment.”
The two men’s similar language suggested a degree of coordination and marked a rare check on Ukraine’s repeated requests for military and diplomatic help at a summit designed to step up western support for Kviv, but without offering it an immediate pathway to Nato membership, which could lead to a direct war with Russia.
On Tuesday, Zelenskiy had complained on social media that it was “absurd” for Kyiv to be told it would be welcome in the alliance but not given a date or exact conditions. But on Wednesday, attending the Nato meeting in person, Ukraine’s leader sought to lighten the tone.
“The outcome of the leaders summit in Vilnius is very much needed and meaningful success for Ukraine. I am grateful to all leaders in all Nato countries for very practical and unprecedented support,” Zelenskiy said, standing alongside Biden, Rishi Sunak and other G7 leaders.
Later when Zelenskiy was asked about Wallace’s comments, the Ukrainian president said: “I thought that we were always very grateful to the UK,” and he asked his defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, who was in the audience, to phone his British counterpart urgently and thank him again for his support.
The G7 had just unveiled a joint declaration in which the leading economies all agreed to “ensuring a sustainable force capable of defending Ukraine now and deterring Russian aggression in the future” as well as maintaining economic support and helping with reconstruction.
But Zelenskiy said that while it was “understandable that Ukraine cannot join Nato when at war”, it would have been ideal if there had been an invitation for Kyiv to join the alliance at some point in the future. He said an invitation would have been a signal that Nato was serious about membership.
In regular remarks made on Thursday night, Zelenskiy struck a more positive note, saying, “for the first time since independence, we have formed a security foundation for Ukraine on its way to Nato.”
“Very importantly, during these two days of the Summit, we have put to rest any doubts and ambiguities about whether Ukraine will be in Nato. It will!”
He added that he was “grateful to all those who have worked for unity in Vilnius”.
Nato’s 31-country military operates on the principle that an attack on one country is considered an attack on them all, and while Ukraine considers membership its best hope for long-term security, it has to deal with the fact that many Nato members will not let Kyiv join while the war is continuing.
Later, Sunak sought to distance himself from Wallace’s comments. The prime minister said Zelenskiy, whom he met earlier in the day, had “repeatedly expressed his gratitude to me and to the British people and indeed other allies as well”, and highlighted his speech at Westminster this February as an example.
Sources close to Wallace said he was reflecting on the need for Ukraine to address the parts of public opinion and parliaments in the international community who need to be encouraged.
The comments dominated the final day of the two-day summit, which ended with a speech given by Biden at Vilnius University, watched by several thousand people. He vowed to support Ukraine’s struggle for freedom for the long term, arguing: “Our unity will not falter, I promise you.”
Biden compared the west’s support for Ukraine to Lithuania’s historic struggle to escape Soviet domination and said it reflected deep-seated values. “The defence of freedom is not the work of a day or a year. It’s the calling of our lifetime – of all time,” he said.
Russia, meanwhile, said the extra military aid to Ukraine could bring on a wider war. Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy secretary of Russia’s powerful security council and an anti-west hawk, said increased military assistance to Ukraine from Nato was bringing a third world war a step closer.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said the commitment from the G7 would “make Europe much more dangerous” for years to come.
“By giving security guarantees to Ukraine, they are undermining the security of the Russian Federation,” he said.
Source: The Guardian