Two days before Biden’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, news of Ukraine joining NATO would have sent a strong message to Russia. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and began supporting separatists in the country. Russia has continued to deploy troops along the Ukrainian border.
On Twitter, foreign policy experts and journalists began question what the Ukraine announcement meant and what Biden would say. Some began to speculate that Putin would cancel the meeting.
NATO, a 30-member alliance, was founded in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union. It promises that attacking one country is attacking everyone.
When Biden finally stepped in front of the cameras, he said NATO would stand behind Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” but made no mention of the country joining the alliance. It quickly became clear that Ukraine had exaggerated what had happened by ignoring the timing of the country’s admission.
NATO only reiterated its 2008 promise that Ukraine would one day become a member. A US official familiar with the matter said nothing has changed. “It is very carefully worded to give support without committing to anything because the alliance disagrees on this,” said the official. Germany and France in particular are unlikely to support a path to membership.
Zelenskyi told reporters on Monday that he was looking for a “yes” or “no” answer from Biden to accepting Ukraine as a full member of NATO.
When asked about Ukraine’s joining NATO – albeit not specifically about the tweet – Biden replied, “It depends on whether they meet the criteria,” he said. “The fact is, they still have to eradicate corruption. They have other criteria to meet. The school isn’t finished on this issue, it remains to be seen.”
But he defended them against Russia. “We will do everything in our power to enable Ukraine to continue to withstand Russia’s physical aggression,” he said. “And it will not just depend on me whether or not we will conclude that Ukraine can become part of NATO, it will depend on the alliance and its vote.”
After answering five questions over 25 minutes, Biden left. He never explained why he was late.
Betsy Woodruff Swan contributed to this report.