West-looking Ukraine ready for Russia peace talks, says new president

EU and Nato urge Volodymyr Zelenskiy to step up reforms and anti-corruption fight

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker:  “We are ready for talks with Russia . . . but, first of all, we must be able to defend ourselves and become strong economically, politically and militarily.” Photograph: Francois Lenoir

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: “We are ready for talks with Russia . . . but, first of all, we must be able to defend ourselves and become strong economically, politically and militarily.” Photograph: Francois Lenoir

 

Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said his country is committed to integration with the West and ready for peace talks with Russia, as he met top European Union and Nato officials in Brussels during his first official trip abroad.

Mr Zelenskiy, a former comedy actor and impresario who won a landslide election victory over predecessor Petro Poroshenko in April, said he would use the two-day trip to discuss ways Ukraine and western allies could force Russia “to make peace” with Kiev.

He took power on promises to sweep away a discredited political elite, crush corruption and strengthen the rule of law, and end a five-year war with Moscow-led militia in eastern Ukraine without making major concessions to Russia, which opposes its neighbour’s integration with the West.

“We are ready for talks with Russia, we are ready to fulfil the Minsk [peace] agreements but, first of all, we must be able to defend ourselves and become strong economically, politically and militarily,” Mr Zelenskiy said after talks with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg.

‘Stability and safety’

“Russia’s continued armed aggression is the main challenge to Euro-Atlantic security. Among our joint tasks is ensuring stability and safety in the Black Sea, and that requires additional alliance efforts,” he added.

“Ukraine’s strategic course towards achieving fully fledged membership of the EU and Nato . . . remains our unalterable foreign policy priority. Ukraine’s move towards high European standards of living and security is a demand of Ukrainian society. It is the aim of our reforms.”

Mr Stoltenberg said Ukraine was a “highly valued partner” in alliance-led missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan and showed a “strong commitment to international security” by taking part in joint training exercises with Nato member states.

“Allies do not, and will not, recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea; and we condemn Russia’s aggressive actions in the Black Sea region,” he added, while describing Russia’s recent offer of passports to Ukrainians living in militant-held areas as “a step in the wrong direction”.

‘Closer to Nato’

Mr Stoltenberg also urged Mr Zelenskiy to step up efforts to fight graft and bolster the rule of law, calling such reforms “essential to ensure security and prosperity for all Ukrainians and to bring Ukraine closer to Nato”.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker embraced Mr Zelenskiy (41) and, when asked by reporters if he missed Mr Poroshenko or whether he had a “new friend”, he replied: “I have a new one.”

“I am better – the new one is better than the old,” Mr Zelenskiy added.

After talks between the pair, commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the EU executive “strongly supports the reform path towards a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ukraine that its citizens have called for. The more Ukraine reforms, the more the EU will support.”