Gitanas Nauseda stood outside his palace and checked his watch. The Lithuanian President’s guests – the leaders of the other 30 Nato countries, VIPs from Europe and Asia, Volodymyr Zelensky – were an hour late for dinner. Nauseda idled on the red carpet with his wife, and the couple stared at the setting sky. An adviser muttered down his phone and shook his head. The President shrugged. Nato had just issued a statement saying that Ukraine would become a member of the bloc ‘when allies agree and conditions are met’. The alliance needed to see ‘democratic and security sector reforms’. Zelensky tweeted that the statement was ‘absurd’. He had come to Vilnius demanding a timeline for Ukraine’s accession to Nato, and hadn’t got it.
On that Tuesday evening, it seemed like the summit in Vilnius was falling apart. Perhaps everyone had given up – gone home. The point of the meeting was to show Vladimir Putin that Nato was united behind Zelensky and Ukraine, but that stiff, unsentimental statement meant it clearly wasn’t. It didn’t matter that the bloc had agreed on new detailed plans to defend its frontiers, and right then nobody cared about an updated defence spending pledge. So what if 2 per cent of GDP was a ‘floor’ or a ‘minimum’? Zelensky had seized the agenda like Donald Trump used to, a Nato official said.
Nauseda’s guests showed up eventually. The Bulgarian prime minister arrived at the palace first, and the leaders of Iceland, Croatia, Albania and Romania followed. European Council president Charles Michel. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. Zelensky with his wife. The Ukrainian president smiled, despite his outburst at Nato’s statement a few hours ago. He held his wife’s hand, and his fingers twitched in her palm.