BULBOACA, Moldova — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's unrelenting quest for more political support and security backing from NATO got a warm welcome but no concrete commitments Thursday during a sprawling summit where nearly every European leader had assembled to condemn non-invitees Russia and Belarus.
Almost hoarse from drumming up support for his nation week after week, Zelenskyy made a surprise visit to neighboring Moldova that ended up as the focal point of an event designed to quell regional conflicts and to shore up Europe's unity in the face of Russia’s war.
After a day of talks at a stately winery in the countryside, Zelenskyy said the best security guarantee for Ukraine was membership in NATO and the European Union, and that any proposed peace plans to end the 15-month-old war in his country could not take into account Russian concerns.
He told the leaders sitting with him that during a NATO summit scheduled for July, “the clear invitation to membership for Ukraine is needed, and the security guarantees on the way to NATO membership are needed.” Ukraine also needs “a clear positive decision” on its accession to the EU in the fall, Zelenskyy added.
French President Emmanuel Macron, the instigator behind the European Political Community summit, supported Zelenskyy's appeal.
With the July 11-12 NATO leaders' meeting in Lithuania's capital drawing near, "it is imperative that the Vilnius summit can give this strong guarantee, new credible guarantees and a clear perspective to Ukraine,” Macron said.
Zelenskyy is seeking Ukraine's economic future in the wealthy 27-nation EU just as urgently. He wants to receive a full commitment from EU leaders when they meet in October on starting membership talks.
“Ukraine has made impressive progress on its EU path. We are by your side. We will work hard together to reach this goal,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised.
The EU hoped to use Thursday's summit to reach out to many Eastern European countries that spent decades either within the Soviet Union or under its immediate sphere of influence, and to bolster the continent’s unified response to Russian aggression.
Macron said the summit yielded concrete results, and that the leaders committed to extend cyber and critical infrastructure protection systems of the EU to all of the European Political Community nations that sought them. He also said the nations would get better protection against disinformation.
The choice to hold the summit in Moldova, a former Soviet republic of around 2.6 million people and Europe's poorest nation, was seen as a message to the Kremlin both from the EU and the pro-Western Moldovan government, which was made a candidate for EU membership at the same time as Ukraine in June 2022.
Moldova, which is cradled by Ukraine on three sides, aspires to join the EU by the end of the decade, and has consistently signaled its support for Ukraine and taken in refugees fleeing the war.
The summit's venue was only 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Ukrainian border. Moldova's president, Maia Sandu, has warned of alleged plots by Moscow to overthrow her government using external saboteurs.
Late in the summit, Sandu said her country was on an “irreversible path to joining the European Union,” and that she and her European partners had told Zelenskyy that "we will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Zelenskyy was the first foreign leader to arrive at Thursday’s summit venue. Dressed in his trademark olive green shirt and cargo pants, he sought to dispel doubts about his country’s accession to the EU and NATO, and told the assembled leaders that Moscow would exploit any such qualms.
“We must remember that every doubt we show here in Europe is a trench that Russia will definitely try to occupy,” he said.
Zelenskyy urged a continuation of Western military aid to Ukraine, saying it was saving lives and “literally accelerating peace.” He insisted that all countries that border Russia should be full members of the EU and NATO, since Moscow “tries to swallow only those who are outside of the common security space.”
“When there are no security guarantees, there are only war guarantees,” he said.
Casert reported from Brussels. Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.