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Former Vice President Mike Pence said Ukraine’s NATO membership should not be considered “during the war” and should wait until “after the war is won.”
“I honestly believe that it's important as the leader of the free world and the arsenal of democracy that America continue to provide the Ukrainians what they need to fight and win and repel that unprovoked Russian invasion," Pence told CNN's Kaitlan Collins. "But the question of NATO membership – and I spoke about this with President (Volodymyr) Zelensky – I think should all wait on after the war is won,”
Pence continued to doubt former President Donald Trump's promise of ending Russia’s war in Ukraine within 24 hours without offering major concessions to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The only way you could end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours would be by giving Vladimir Putin what he wants. And that's the last thing the United States should ever call upon Ukraine to do,” Pence said.
Pence also defended the Trump administration — of which he served — for staying “firm” against Putin, despite “however Trump spoke about him.”
The presidential candidate said he “conveyed” that “firmness" in his interactions with Trump.
Pence, who has become a strong advocate for US support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion, is so far the only Republican presidential candidate to visit Ukraine.
On a trip to the nation last month, Pence met with Zelensky and affirmed that “the United States and the free world continue to stand with you until victory is achieved but then justice is also achieved.”
Pence said he assured the Ukrainian leader that he’ll “continue to do everything in our power to make sure that we provide the Ukrainian military with the support they need until they repel the Russian invasion and restore the sovereignty of this country.”
Russia launched airstrikes toward the Kyiv region for the second night in a row during the early hours of Wednesday (local time), but Ukraine’s air defense systems engaged in repelling the attack, according to the Kyiv regional military administration.
“The movement of enemy UAVs has been recorded! Air defense works in the region,” the administration said on Telegram.
The strikes come following an overnight attack on Monday in which drones launched by Russia were shot down by Ukraine’s air defense.
The United Kingdom is expected to announce a new major funding package for Ukraine, which will include additional ammunition and combat vehicles, as well as £50 million ($64.7 million USD) in support for equipment repair and a new military rehabilitation center, according to a Downing Street statement.
The UK also said G7 partners are expected to agree to an international framework for Ukraine’s long-term security arrangements on Wednesday, which "will set out how allies will support Ukraine over the coming years to end the war and deter and respond to any future attack."
"It is the first time that this many countries have agreed a comprehensive long-term security arrangement of this kind with another country," according to Downing Street.
Following a joint declaration on Wednesday, G7 partners "will provide more defense equipment, increase and accelerate intelligence sharing, bolster support for cyber and hybrid threat defenses, expand training programs and military exercises, and develop Ukraine’s industrial base," the statement said.
The British government's latest funding package will include:
- Additional rounds of Challenger 2 ammunition.
- More than 70 combat and logistics vehicles, including Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance Tracked vehicles.
- The UK will also provide funding for a rehabilitation center to aid Ukrainian soldiers who have been injured in combat.
“As Ukraine makes strategic progress in their counteroffensive, and the degradation of Russian forces begins to infect (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s front line, we are stepping up our formal arrangements to protect Ukraine for the long term," British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in the statement.
“Supporting [Ukraine's] progress on the pathway to NATO membership, coupled with formal, multilateral, and bilateral agreements and the overwhelming support of NATO members will send a strong signal to President Putin and return peace to Europe," Sunak said.
A full-court press by the Biden administration in the days leading up to the NATO summit capped months of behind-the-scenes diplomacy to get Turkey to move ahead with Sweden’s accession to NATO.
A major part of that diplomatic effort: Getting progress on the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara – a request that, despite claims by top US officials, had become linked to the question of Sweden’s membership to NATO.
All eyes are now on a meeting Wednesday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to see if the two leaders can do enough to assuage one US lawmaker’s concerns and gain the approval of the F-16 jet sale.
Ahead of the high-stakes meeting, the Biden administration expects that Erdogan and Mitsotakis will commit to keeping the calm in the region and possibly strike an agreement to respect one another’s airspace, after a year of unprecedented Turkish incursions into Greek airspace, a US official familiar with efforts and a regional diplomat told CNN.
The hope is that such a statement could address Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez’s concerns.
After Finland and Sweden were invited to join NATO, efforts got underway to ensure their membership in the defensive alliance. Turkey put up obstacles to both countries, but eventually allowed Helsinki to move ahead. However, Ankara continued to maintain opposition to Sweden, making demands related to Kurdish terror groups, like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and arms sales.
Behind the scenes, the F-16 sale was also operating as an implicit demand by Ankara, and US diplomats got to work on extensive engagements with both counterparts and lawmakers.
Among those engagements were multiple trips to Washington, DC, by US Ambassador to Turkey Jeff Flake.
Julianne Smith, US Ambassador to NATO, told CNN that it is "very tough" to agree on a timeline for Ukraine's accession to the alliance while the country is still at war.
"Even the Ukrainians themselves will tell you that they need to make further reforms. They've made good progress on a variety of democratic and security sector reforms, but they'll have to continue working in that direction," Smith told CNN Tuesday.
Smith reiterated that Ukraine has already taken positive steps, which led to NATO agreeing to streamline the accession process by removing a key hurdle for Ukraine — the requirement for a Membership Action Plan.
When asked about whether Ukraine's position and the lack of a timeline gives Russia an incentive to continue fighting, Smith emphasized that allies have already committed to Ukraine's future in NATO, as well as to giving the country long-term support.
"(Russian President Vladimir) Putin assumed when he started this war, that he could wait us out that the West would look the other direction and it would ultimately lose interest in Ukraine. And the reality is we're at day 500 of this war, and no one is going anywhere," she said.
Smith also said the United States is "thrilled" Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in attendance for the summit and for the first NATO Ukraine Council, adding, "I think this sends a very strong signal to President Putin."
NATO allies on Tuesday reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s push for membership of the alliance, according to a final declaration issued by the 31-member group at a summit in Lithuania.
“Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” it said.
"We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met," the communiqué added.
NATO allies also reiterated their condemnation of Russia's war and its "blatant violations of international law, the Charter of the United Nations, and OSCE commitments and principles.”
Support for Kyiv was clear around the Lithuanian capital. Messages were even displayed on the windows of shuttle buses carrying people to and from the summit venue.
“While you are waiting for this bus, Ukraine is waiting to become a NATO member,” read a message written on the window of one of the buses.
Here are the latest developments from the summit:
- Zelensky addressed a crowd in Vilnius: Speaking before thousands on a stage decked out with the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag – beneath a huge sign reading “#UkraineNATO33” – President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was attending the summit to seek “total assurance” from NATO members of the decision that Ukraine “deserves,” referring to membership of the alliance. “NATO will give Ukraine security. Ukraine will make NATO stronger,” he said. After the speech, a Ukrainian flag sent from the frontlines of the war was raised in the Lithuanian capital.
- NATO to remove one step to Ukraine's accession, alliance chief says: Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance has changed the requirements needed for Ukraine to join the group. Stoltenberg said allied countries “agreed to remove the requirements for membership action,” which will change Ukraine’s membership path from a “two-step process to a one-step process.”
- Swedish PM hails agreement with Turkey: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Tuesday he was "very happy" with Turkey's green light to Sweden's NATO membership. On Monday, NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey agreed to back Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance. Previously, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had suggested Sweden could only join after his country was accepted into the European Union.
- NATO allies call for Iran to stop supplying drones to Russia and push against China's partnership with Moscow: The Western allies expressed “serious concern” over Iran’s “malicious activities” and urged Tehran to stop supplying drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine. In its communiqué, NATO said “Iran’s support to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine” is impacting Euro-Atlantic security. NATO also called on China to abstain from supporting the Russian war effort.
- Blinken says allies understand why US is providing cluster munitions: Allies know why the United States is providing controversial cluster munitions to Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday. “Every ally I've talked to has said they understand why we're doing this, when we're doing it,” Blinken said in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. Some key US allies, including the UK, France and Germany, are signatories to a ban on cluster munitions.
- US and Turkish leaders hold talks: US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Tuesday and "discussed efforts to strengthen bilateral cooperation," the White House said in a readout of the meeting. Biden is expected to meet Zelensky in Vilnius on Wednesday.
US President Joe Biden President congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the agreement reached with the Swedish prime minister that would allow for Sweden's membership in NATO, according to the White House.
Biden and Erdogan met at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday.
The leaders "discussed efforts to strengthen bilateral cooperation, welcoming the latest round of discussions in the strategic mechanism and exchanging views on defense and economic priorities,” the White House said in a readout of the meeting.
“They also discussed regional issues of shared interest, including their enduring support for Ukraine and the importance of preserving stability in the Aegean," it added.
Russia's Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu warned of retaliation if the United States continues with plans to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine.
"In the event that the United States supplies cluster munitions to Ukraine, Russia will be forced to respond in a reciprocal manner," Shoigu said, according to Russian television network Channel 5, which carried his comments.
Former President Dmitry Medvedev, who is now on the Russian Security Council, said on Telegram it had been reported that the Ukrainians were already using the munitions on the southern front.
"It was reported that Tokmak was shelled with cluster munitions. It means that it is time to unload our arsenals of these inhumane weapons," Medvedev said.
Tokmak is a town near the frontlines in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.
Russian military bloggers have claimed that the munitions are already being used by Ukrainian forces. Neither Ukraine nor the United States has said they are already deployed.
The White House said Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine was a “temporary” one.
In comments published late Sunday, the Russian embassy in Washington said the United States “de facto” admitted to committing war crimes by supplying cluster munitions to Ukraine.
The embassy added that the decision shows that “the US is ready to annihilate all life far from its own borders and are using the Ukrainians to do it.”
Some more context: The US confirmed last week that it will send cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of a new military aid package, following months of debate within the Biden administration about whether to provide Kyiv with the controversial weapons banned by over 100 countries, including key US allies.
The Russian Foreign Ministry described the transfer of cluster munitions as “an act of desperation and evidence of failure of the highly publicized Ukrainian 'counteroffensive.'”
How do they work? Cluster munitions, also called cluster bombs, are canisters that carry tens to hundreds of smaller bomblets, also known as submunitions. The canisters can be dropped from aircraft, launched from missiles or fired from artillery, naval guns or rocket launchers.
The canisters break open at a prescribed height, depending upon the area of the intended target, and the bomblets inside spread out over that area. They are fused by a timer to explode closer to or on the ground, spreading shrapnel that is designed to kill troops or take out armored vehicles such as tanks.
Both the Ukrainians and the Russians have used cluster bombs since Moscow’s forces invaded in February 2022. More recently, Ukrainian forces have begun using Turkish-provided cluster munitions on the battlefield.