NATO allies at summit to unveil Ukraine 'bridge to membership'

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian national flag is pictured in front of the NATO emblem in central Kyiv

By Steve Holland and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -NATO allies at their summit in Washington next week will unveil a "bridge to membership" plan for Ukraine and announce steps to bolster Kyiv's air defenses, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

"Allies will reaffirm that Ukraine's future is in NATO, will make significant new announcements about how we're increasing NATO's military political and financial support for Ukraine. This is part of Ukraine's bridge to NATO," the official told reporters.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who is battling to remain a viable candidate for re-election after a stumbling debate performance against Republican Donald Trump, will play host to the leaders of NATO's 32 members beginning Tuesday in Washington.

Biden is expected to hold a rare solo news conference during the summit.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who lobbied unsuccessfully for a political invitation to join NATO at its summit in Vilnius last summer, has said that this year's summit should resolve the matter of inviting Kyiv to join.

The senior U.S. official described the "bridge to membership" plan as quite substantial that will include training coordination, logistics and force development.

"This is a very serious effort to get Ukraine in a position...where it will be ready to assume its roles and responsibilities within the alliance on day one," the official said.

Zelenskiy is expected to attend the summit. Ukraine has been trying to push back Russian advances in the Kharkiv area.

The senior U.S. official also said the United States and some NATO allies will announce new steps "to strengthen Ukraine's air defenses and military capabilities to help Ukraine continue to defend themselves today."

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Simon LewisEditing by Alistair Bell)