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Zelensky says now is the time for Ukraine to join NATO as alliance chiefs visit Kiev

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has told Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg it is time to admit his country to the alliance during Mr Stoltenberg’s first visit to Kiev since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Mr. Stoltenberg said that “the proper place is in the Euro-Atlantic family … is in NATO”, inviting Mr. Zelensky to a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July. The Ukrainian president said he believed the summit could be “historic” but that his country needed a roadmap to membership.

“There are no obstacles to the political decision to invite Ukraine into the alliance and now, when the majority of NATO countries and the majority of Ukrainians support NATO accession, is the time for this decision.” Mr. Zelensky said.

The statements will irk the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has made various claims about the reasons behind Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine but has insisted in recent months that preventing Kiev from joining NATO was a key goal. . Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that bringing Ukraine into the military alliance “would present a serious, significant threat to our country’s security.” Moscow said similar things when Finland officially joined NATO last month, a move that doubled the size of the land border the alliance shares with Russia. Neighboring Sweden is also expected to join soon, possibly in time for the NATO summit in July.

Ukraine announced a bid for fast-track membership of NATO last September after the Kremlin unilaterally announced that it had annexed four regions of Ukraine that its troops partially occupied. NATO has no official presence in Ukraine and provides only non-lethal support to Kiev, but has provided a significant amount of support during the 14-month war. Mr Stoltenberg pledged continued military support for Ukraine, saying that, so far, Nato allies had trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and provided €65bn (£57bn) in military aid alone and tens of billions of pounds in other areas Were. Stoltenberg said, “NATO stands with you today, tomorrow and as long as it is necessary.”

The NATO secretary general’s visit to Kiev comes at a turning point in the war, and Kiev is expected to launch a counteroffensive against Russia’s forces in the coming weeks or months. Mr Zelensky has pushed for more arms from the West to enable Kiev’s troops to halt any Russian advance on land and then push further into Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions. Mr Zelensky implored Mr Stoltenberg to help ensure those weapons were delivered, saying the delay in getting more weapons had resulted in deaths in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg’s visit comes a day before NATO defense officials are due to discuss new military supplies to Ukraine at their latest meeting at Ramstein air base in Germany on Friday. Denmark and the Netherlands announced on Thursday that they would jointly donate 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Kiev. In a joint statement, the Danish and Dutch defense ministers said the estimated cost of €165m (£145m) “to jointly acquire, refurbish and donate” would be split equally between the two NATO members. “As such, we will jointly participate in the Leopard 2 alliance, which is supported by many allies and partners,” he said.

Denmark’s acting Defense Minister Trolls Lund Poulsen insisted that the tanks were not Danish, but “purchased in cooperation with the Netherlands”.

On Wednesday, the US announced $325m (£261m) in new military aid, which includes High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMAR), advanced missiles and ammunition for anti-tank mines.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report