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Will Biden meet Zelensky at the NATO summit in Vilnius?

US President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One as he visits Stansted Airport in the UK.

US President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One as he visits Stansted Airport in the UK.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden kicked off a five-day trip to Europe. His first stop is the UK, where he will meet with King Charles III for the first time since the British monarch’s coronation, as well as PM Rishi Sunak. But the most important leg of Biden's European tour will be July 11-12 in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius for the 74th NATO Summit, where the controversial question of whether Ukraine could (or should) ever join the alliance looms large.

Before departing, the US president made the controversial decision to supply Kyiv with deadly cluster bomb munitions. Washington says the move was necessary because the Ukrainians are running low on ammo, even though the weapons are banned in many countries because they tend to kill or maim large numbers of civilians. Still, it's unlikely this will hamper Biden's efforts to shore up NATO unity on economic and military support for Ukraine. The bigger question is: Will Ukraine be given a path to membership?

Poland and the Baltic states, the alliance’s biggest Russia hawks, want NATO to offer Kyiv a pathway to membership — something that was vaguely promised as far back as 2008. But the US and Germany think that Ukraine isn’t ready yet, politically or militarily, and are worried that welcoming Ukraine would eventually drag the alliance into a direct conflict with Russia. Biden prefers something more like an “Israel” model in which its Western backers help arm Ukraine to the teeth, but not formally accept it into NATO.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has been invited to the summit, but he is threatening to snub it if there's no progress toward Ukraine joining the club.


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