What's happening at the NATO summit
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
First, though, to the Baltic country of Lithuania, where the heads of state of 31 countries are meeting. This NATO summit comes in the midst of a war underway in Ukraine and as NATO looks towards the Indo-Pacific to deal with the challenges posed by China's rise. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Hey there.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So I mentioned 31 countries are gathered, but let's start with No. 32, a country that's not currently a member of NATO but will be soon because a last-minute deal has cleared the way for Sweden to join the alliance. Walk us through that.
BEARDSLEY: Yeah, absolutely. After opposing Sweden's membership bid for most of the year, Turkish President Erdogan did an about face and said he would allow Sweden's accession to NATO to be submitted to the Turkish parliament. Last night, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced this. And you could see he was clearly relieved because it removed what would have been a huge stumbling block to the summit. Stoltenberg said Sweden has done a lot to address Ankara's concerns over a Kurdish militant group that Turks consider to be a terrorist organization. And Sweden actually changed some of its laws and even amended its constitution to be able to address the issue.
The result is this once again enlarges NATO, which is one of Russia's concerns that the alliance is edging up to its borders. With Finland joining a few months ago, Russia now has 800 miles of additional border with NATO countries. And Sweden's membership is turning the Baltic Sea into what some are calling a NATO lake. Here is Kristine Berzina with the German Marshall Fund. She refers to the Russian exclave here of Kaliningrad, which was created after World War II and sits right next to Lithuania. Let's listen to what she says about Sweden joining NATO.
KRISTINE BERZINA: This matters because the Swedish island Gotland is narrowly across the sea from Kaliningrad. There's discussion that, eventually, the Baltic Sea will become a, quote, "NATO lake," meaning in a war-like situation, Russia will not have passage through it.
KELLY: Eleanor, let me turn you to the country that is most eager to join the alliance. And that would be Ukraine, currently fending off Russia's invasion. How do their prospects look one day into this summit?
BEARDSLEY: Well, let's listen to what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today when he was repeatedly asked by reporters why Ukraine will not be invited to join this week.
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JENS STOLTENBERG: The Ukrainian forces have demonstrated courage, skill, competence that has impressed the whole world. But at the same time, there is a full-fledged war. And therefore, I think all allies agree that when a war is going on, that's not the time for making Ukraine a full member of the alliance.
BEARDSLEY: Now, Mary Louise, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Vilnius this evening. He realizes the war is keeping his country from becoming a member at this summit, but he wants clear guarantees they will be admitted when the war is over. Still, that may not be forthcoming. And the country most opposed right now seems to be the U.S. and President Biden.
KELLY: So no membership for now. But there are a lot of pledges and promises and more weapons that are being teed up for Ukraine at this summit?
BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. Huge security assurances that the NATO alliance will stick with Ukraine. Stoltenberg spoke of military, political and financial guarantees, a multi-year package of assistance that he said would transition Ukraine from Soviet-era military to NATO standards and make the Ukrainian forces fully interoperable with NATO allies. French President Emmanuel Macron reversed France's policy today and pledged long-range missiles. Macron says France will send Scout missiles. These are similar to Britain's long-range Storm Shadow missiles that have been used effectively in Ukraine's counteroffensive. And Germany just pledged 770 million more dollars to Ukraine.
KELLY: Before I let you go, we mentioned China and that the U.S. is eager for NATO, this trans-Atlantic alliance, to do more in Asia. How are the other NATO members thinking about the push?
BEARDSLEY: Well, there are four leaders of Asian leaders here - South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. Today the South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said he's here because his country shares NATO values. But an analyst told me the Europeans don't want to mix issues. There's China, and there's Russia, and they want to finish the war in Ukraine first. And actually, France recently opposed the setting up of a NATO representative office in Japan.
KELLY: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reporting from that NATO summit in Vilnius. Thanks.
BEARDSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.