Rishi Sunak told Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky he belonged in NATO as he assured him “real progress” had been made on security guarantees for Kyiv in its fightback against Russia.
The prime minister met the Ukrainian president on the fringes of the NATO summit in Vilnius.
Zelensky has been left frustrated by the reluctance of the 31 member states to agree a timetable for war torn Ukraine to be admitted into the international defensive alliance.
He had said it was “absurd” for NATO to insist on military and democratic conditions for the eastern European nation to meet before it can join following the end of the war with Moscow.
Greeting Zelensky in the Lithuanian capital on Wednesday, Sunak said: “It is good to see you here at NATO where you belong.”
The British premier has consistently stated that he sees Ukraine’s place as being in NATO but its pathway to entry has proved a sticking point among allies in Vilnius.
Sunak has been working behind the scenes to deliver a non-NATO multilateral defence and economic agreement for Ukraine to give it long-term support against Russian aggression.
All members of the G7 – made up of the UK, the US, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada – are set to sign the pact with Ukraine while in Vilnius.
The prime minister has said the fresh terms have the potential to “return peace to Europe”.
Little detail has been published about the pact but No 10 said it would lead to increased intelligence sharing, training of Ukraine’s forces and plans to boost Kyiv’s defence industry.
Both leaders, however, agreed the deal “will not be a substitute for NATO membership”.
‘We’re not Amazon’
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace appeared to suggest Zelensky needed to be mindful about keeping “doubting politicians” in the US on-side, following his critical remarks about NATO.
Wallace said some allies providing aid to Kyiv “want to see gratitude”. He said the US and the UK have told Ukraine “we’re not Amazon” after being handed requests for new weapons.
In a press conference with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, Zelensky appeared to have calmed some of his language following Tuesday’s criticism of the alliance.
He said it was “logical and understandable” that Ukraine could not be admitted immediately as the struggle against Russia meant the conflict would develop into a world war.
Zelensky is expected to meet US president Joe Biden later on Wednesday.
By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent in Vilnius