Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has told visiting Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg that it is time for the alliance to invite his country to become a member, as the Kremlin said it would never accept such a move by its pro-western neighbour.
On his first visit to Ukraine since Moscow’s military launched its all-out invasion last February, Mr Stoltenberg said the country’s “rightful place” was in Nato and that members would discuss continued support for Kyiv at a summit in July that Mr Zelenskiy had been invited to attend.
“I am grateful for the invitation to attend the summit but it is important that Ukraine also receives a corresponding invitation [to join Nato],” the Ukrainian leader said.
“There is no objective barrier that would prevent the adoption of political decisions on inviting Ukraine to the alliance. And right now, when the majority of people in Nato countries and the majority of Ukrainians support our country’s accession to the alliance, it is time for appropriate decisions,” he added.
“It is no longer possible to imagine the security of the Euro-Atlantic area without Ukraine, and people understand that.”
More than a year into a full-scale war that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions, Mr Zelenskiy said it was “security uncertainty that fuelled the aggressor’s illusions” and therefore only the clarity of full Nato membership would prevent “any new aggression against our people or any other free European people”.
Mr Stoltenberg said: “Ukraine’s rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family. Ukraine’s rightful place is in Nato. And over time our support will help to make this possible.”
Moscow claims its “special military operation” is a defensive move to prevent Nato using Ukraine as a launch pad for attacks on Russia and is also aimed at protecting Russian speakers in the country and ousting supposed “neo-Nazis” from power in the pro-western democracy.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Nato membership for Ukraine was absolutely unacceptable for Russia: “Otherwise, it would pose serious danger for the security of our country.”
Mr Stoltenberg said Nato members had provided Ukraine with “more than €150 billion of support, including €65 billion of military aid” during Russia’s full invasion, and more would be discussed when dozens of states meet in Germany on Friday to discuss arms supplies to Kyiv.
“At the meeting in Ramstein tomorrow, I expect that Nato allies and partners will make new announcements of concrete military support to Ukraine,” he added.
As Kyiv’s forces prepare to launch a counteroffensive, Mr Zelenskiy said that “the further our soldiers can move on the front line, the sooner the most important thing – peace – will return to Ukraine and all of Europe”.
He urged allies to accelerate deliveries of vital arms and ammunition, because every delay “is time that is lost for peace and it is the lives of our fighters who still have not received the essential amount of defensive equipment”.
In Moscow, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova repeated warnings to countries that supply arms to Kyiv, days after South Korea said that in the case of further Russian atrocities, it could rethink its policy of only sending non-lethal aid to Ukraine.
“Russia is conducting defensive military operations against the collective West, which has chosen the puppet regime in Kyiv as an instrument of its hybrid proxy war against us,” she said. “In this situation, we will consider any supplies of weapons to Ukraine, wherever they might come from, as an openly hostile anti-Russian move.”
Kyiv said heavy fighting continued on Thursday in eastern Ukraine, and at least one person was killed and three injured in Russian shelling of the northern Chernihiv region.