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Stoltenberg: Ukraine Belongs in NATO

FILE: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg shake hands as they meet, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Taken April 20, 2023.

KYIV - NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg defiantly declared Thursday that Ukraine’s “rightful place” is in the military alliance and pledged more support for the country on his first visit to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion just over a year ago.

“Let me be clear, Ukraine’s rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family," Stoltenberg told a Kyiv news conference. “Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO.”

NATO leaders said in 2008 that Ukraine would join the alliance one day, and Stoltenberg has repeated that promise throughout the war, though the organization has established no pathway or timetable for membership.

The Kremlin has given various justifications for going to war, but repeated Thursday that preventing Ukraine from joining NATO is still a key goal of its invasion, arguing that Kyiv’s membership in the alliance would pose an "existential threat" to Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Stoltenberg, who has been instrumental in marshaling support from NATO members, to push for even more from them, including warplanes, artillery and armored equipment.

Zelenskyy said he was grateful for an invitation to a NATO summit in July in Vilnius, Lithuania, but said his country needs a roadmap for becoming a member.

“The time has come for the (alliance’s) leaders to define the prospects of Ukraine’s acquisition of NATO membership, to define the algorithm of Ukraine’s movement towards this goal, and to define security guarantees for our state for the period of such movement — that is, for the period before NATO membership,” he said.

NATO has no official presence in Ukraine and provides only nonlethal support to Kyiv, but Stoltenberg has been the strong voice of the alliance throughout the war.

Earlier this month, Finland joined the alliance, setting aside decades of neutrality in a historic realignment of Europe’s post-Cold War security landscape. While NATO says it poses no threat to Russia, the Nordic country's accession dealt a major political blow to Putin.

Russia has a lengthy border with Finland, putting Moscow on the fence-line with NATO.