A key hurdle to Ukraine’s membership of NATO was lifted Monday as leaders of the bloc gathered for a summit in Lithuania and Kyiv claimed it had made advances near Bakhmut.

A Western official told AFP that the allies “are set” to drop the Membership Action Plan required for Ukraine’s application to join the alliance.

The breakthrough comes amid rare glimmers of disunity over Washington’s controversial decision to supply cluster bombs to Kyiv.

Ukraine’s foreign minister said the diplomatic move — which Moscow said would have serious consequences for European security — would shorten Kyiv’s path to NATO membership, even though Ukraine must still undertake reforms before joining.

“NATO allies have reached consensus on removing MAP from Ukraine’s path to membership,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

It came as Kyiv said its troops captured key heights around the eastern city of Bakhmut.

Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar said they had established fire control over the “entrances, exits and movement of the enemy around the city”.

Its military had earlier claimed to have recaptured 14 square kilometres from the Russians in the past week amid “heavy fighting” near Bakhmut.

But Russian shelling Sunday of a humanitarian aid hub in the frontline Zaporizhzhia region killed four people, the local governor announced Monday.

President Volodymyr Zelensky had voiced hope that Tuesday’s NATO summit in Vilnius would provide a “clear signal” that Kyiv could join the alliance once its war with Russia is over.

Ahead of the meeting, the Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP that “MAP is just one of the steps in the NATO accession process… so even with its removal, Ukraine will still need to complete further reforms before joining NATO.”

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