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Ukraine war latest: Stoltenberg says 'no final decision' made about Ukraine's NATO aspirations on the eve of Vilnius summit

by Asami Terajima July 10, 2023 11:23 PM 6 min read
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a press conference ahead of the annual NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Monday, July 10, 2023. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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Key developments on July 10:

  • Stoltenberg: 'No final decision' made regarding Ukraine's NATO bid
  • Kuleba: NATO allies agree on simplified procedure for Ukraine's accession
  • Kremlin spokesman: Putin and Prigozhin met after rebellion
  • Defense Ministry: Ukraine controls 'key commanding heights' around Bakhmut
  • Rheinmetall to build, repair tanks in Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on July 10 that "no final decision has been made" regarding Ukraine's NATO membership bid, and consultations and meetings are ongoing to prepare a "very clear message" at the Vilnius summit.

Speaking at a press conference next to Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda on the eve of the long-anticipated summit, Stoltenberg said that he was "absolutely certain" that the allies will have "unity and a strong message" on Ukraine's NATO bid by the end of the summit.

Stoltenberg's statement comes amid reports that Germany and the U.S. are expected to block Ukraine's entry on account of needed reforms and the ongoing war.

"All allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance," Stoltenberg, who has been recently pushing NATO members to reassert their position, said.

The most urgent task, however, remains to do everything for Ukraine to win the war, according to Stoltenberg.

"The most urgent task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign and independent nation in Europe because unless Ukraine prevails, then there is no membership issue to be discussed at all," Stoltenberg said.

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All eyes on Vilnius

Ukraine's NATO membership bid is expected to be the main topic at the two-day summit in Lithuania's capital set to begin on July 11.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on the German government not to delay Ukraine's accession to NATO at the Vilnius summit, the German television news magazine Tagesthemen reported on July 10.

"I call on the German government not to repeat the mistakes made by Chancellor (Angela) Merkel in 2008, who spoke out clearly against Ukraine's integration into NATO," Kuleba said.

Other topics include discussions on the Turkey-Sweden dispute over Stockholm's accession – Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 10 suggested that his country should join the EU if the West wanted Ankara to finally back Stockholm's accession into NATO.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to attend the summit on July 12, according to the event schedule and Bloomberg's report citing anonymous sources. Stoltenberg said on July 10 that Zelensky would join the inaugural meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, with neither side confirming an in-person attendance yet.

The removal of the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine is among the discussion points, according to Stoltenberg.

"Of course, this is about moving Ukraine closer to membership," Stoltenberg said. "But again, the final decisions will be taken when every ally, when we all agree, and the leaders meet tomorrow."

The MAP envisages a country being assessed step-by-step to meet specific criteria for NATO accession, which may take years or even decades. Finland, who applied to join NATO in May 2022 and skipped the MAP process, managed to become the alliance's member in less than a year.

Kuleba said on July 10 that the allies agreed to remove the MAP from Ukraine's accession path "following intense talks."

"I welcome this long-awaited decision that shortens our path to NATO. It is also the best moment to offer clarity on the invitation to Ukraine to become a member," Kuleba tweeted.

Recent polls conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), published on July 10, show that 89% of Ukrainians want their country to join NATO, with the figure ranging from 79% in Ukraine's east to 93% in western regions.

Ukrainian soldiers of the 57th Separate Motorized Brigade prepare to train with an MK19 grenade launcher during the training session at the training area in Donetsk Oblast on July 9, 2023. (Photo by Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Kremlin says Putin, Prigozhin met after rebellion

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Wagner mercenary group Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin five days after the end of the short-lived Wagner rebellion in Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on July 10.

The nearly three-hour-long meeting involving about 35 people was held at the Kremlin on June 29, according to Peskov.

Peskov said that all detachment commanders and the leadership of Wagner were present at the meeting. He did not disclose details of the meeting, just saying that Putin gave his assessment of Wagner's role on the front line and the subsequent rebellion.

The spokesman added that the mercenaries present at the meeting said they were ready to continue fighting for Russia and were offered further employment and combat options.

Prigozhin launched a "march for justice" against Russian military leaders on June 23 after accusing the Russian army of targeting Wagner camps in occupied Ukraine.

His mercenaries occupied Rostov and marched several hundred kilometers to Moscow, only to abruptly end the rebellion less than 24 hours after its start.

On June 27, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko said that the mercenary boss had arrived in Belarus after the dictator allegedly brokered a peace deal between the mercenaries and the Kremlin.

But Prigozhin's whereabouts have been unclear for nearly two weeks.

The French media outlet Liberation reported earlier on July 10 that the mercenary leader has been present in Moscow since at least July 1.

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Fierce fighting in Donetsk Oblast

Russian forces are trapped inside Bakhmut as Ukraine continues to launch counterattacks on the flanks of the city, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, said on July 10.

Bakhmut is under fire control of Ukrainian forces, Syrskyi said, meaning that the Ukrainian artillery can reach targets in the city.

Contrary, there's no indication that Russian forces in Bakhmut are currently trapped.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on July 10 that Ukraine controls "the key commanding heights" around Bakhmut and "keeps the entrances, exits, and movements of the enemy through the city under fire control" for several days.

Ukrainian forces are raging the counteroffensive on at least three sectors of the front line, the Institute for the Study of War, a D.C.-based think-tank analyzing the war in Ukraine, said in its July 9 assessment.

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Rheinmetall to build, repair tanks in Ukraine

The German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall will open a plant in Ukraine within the next 12 weeks, the company's CEO Armin Papperger told CNN in an interview published on July 10.

Papperger said the company plans to train Ukrainian staff to maintain tanks and other armored vehicles produced in that factory.

"(Ukrainians) have to help themselves — if they always have to wait (for) Europeans or Americans (to) help them over the next 10 or 20 years… that is not possible," Papperger said.

Rheinmetall's CEO added that the planned factory will be located in western Ukraine, protected from Russian strikes.

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