By Andreas Rinke and Natalia Zinets
KYIV -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday his country would continue to seek membership of the NATO transatlantic military alliance despite pressure to cede that aspiration to avoid war with Russia.
Ukraine’s envoy to Britain had suggested Kyiv may reconsider its NATO bid but later backtracked while acknowledging concessions could be on offer amid Western warnings of a potentially imminent Russian invasion.
The Kremlin, which has more than 100,000 soldiers massed on Ukraine’s border, denies planning to invade the former Soviet state, but says it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless demands are met.
Those include promises from NATO never to admit Ukraine and to withdraw forces from Eastern Europe.
“Today, many journalists and many leaders are hinting a little to Ukraine that it is possible not to take risks, not to constantly raise the issue of future membership in the alliance, because these risks are associated with the reaction of the Russian Federation,” said Zelenskiy at a joint news conference with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Kyiv.
“I believe that we should move along the path we have chosen.”
Scholz said it was strange Russia should raise this issue anyhow given it was not immediately on the agenda.
He told reporters he saw “no reasonable justification” for Russia’s border buildup, and that Moscow should accept offers to discuss European security.
Scholz’s trip was part of a flurry of diplomacy to de-escalate the crisis through dialogue and the threat of sanctions. On Tuesday, Scholz will fly to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The chancellor has ratcheted up engagement in the Ukraine crisis over the past week after critics accused him of lack of leadership and mixed signals in one of Europe’s worst security crises in decades.
“Germany stands right by your side,” he said on Monday, underscoring that the country was Ukraine’s biggest financial backer and announcing a new credit of 150 million euros ($170 million).
Ukrainian officials have publicly criticized Germany for refusing to sell weapons to Kyiv – Berlin argues it cannot due to its bloody 20th century history – and over reluctance to pull the plug on a controversial Russian-German gas pipeline project.
Ukraine as well as Western allies argue the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is built but not yet operational, would enable Russia to cut Ukraine out of Europe’s energy supply and make it more vulnerable to Russian invasion.
In recent weeks, Scholz has toughened his rhetoric on the cost to Russia of any new attack on Ukraine. But he has not vowed to end Nord Stream 2 or linked it to potential sanctions.