Ukraine urges Nato to hasten membership as Russian troops gather

President calls for his country to be put on pathway to membership of western military alliance

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, president of Ukraine. Photograph: ReutersVolodymyr Zelenskiy, president of Ukraine. Photograph: Reuters

Defence and security editor

Ukraine’s president has called on Nato and key member states to hasten his country’s membership of the western military alliance in response to a growing buildup of Russian forces on his country’s borders.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke to Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, on Tuesday, and urged for Ukraine to be put on a pathway to future membership to halt the long-running conflict in the eastern Donbas region.

A statement released by the Ukraine presidency following the call said that “the most urgent issue” in relation to Nato was “the possibility of obtaining the Nato membership action plan”, seen as a pathway to future membership.

EU and UK pledge backing to Ukraine after Russian military buildup

The Ukrainian president has been engaged in a frantic round of diplomatic activity in the past few days as Russia has markedly increased the number of troops deployed to the north and east of Ukraine and in occupied Crimea.

Russia’s purpose in the military buildup is unclear, but many western analysts are concerned about the scale of the posturing at a time of increased tensions between Moscow and Washington, after Joe Biden told reporters he thought his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was “a killer”.

Similar requests for a pathway to Nato membership were made by Zelenskiy in calls with Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, on Monday and again on Tuesday with Justin Trudeau, Canada’s PM. Following the call with the UK, Ukraine called on the country, along with allies, to “strengthen its presence” in the region.

“Nato is the only way to end the war in Donbas. Ukraine’s MAP [membership action plan] will be a real signal for Russia,” Zelenskiy told Stoltenberg, according to Kyiv’s readout of their conversation.

Stoltenberg tweeted that he had spoken to Ukraine’s leader “to express serious concern about Russia’s military activities in and around Ukraine” and said the alliance “firmly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Nato sources said alliance members discussed the Russian buildup last Thursday and continued to monitor the situation closely. But officials also said that Ukraine would have to “focus on domestic reforms” and “develop its defence capabilities in accordance with Nato standards” in order to be considered for membership.

Russia has not denied the troop movements but insisted it was “not threatening anyone”. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, told reporters on Tuesday that Nato membership for Ukraine would do no good in resolving the conflict.

“We very much doubt that this will help Ukraine settle its domestic problem,” Peskov said.

“From our point of view, it will only worsen the situation. If you ask the opinion of several million people living in the self-declared republics [in the east of the country] you will see that for them Nato membership is deeply unacceptable.”

Renewed clashes have been taking place in the east of Ukraine, in a simmering conflict that dates back to 2014. Kyiv said two soldiers were killed on Monday and Tuesday on the frontline, battling separatists who are widely believed to have Russian backing, something which Moscow denies.

Dr Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “We are seeing more and more commentators and analysts saying this is more serious than just a show of strength. I don’t think we can rule out anything at this point.”


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