President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged NATO on Wednesday to send Ukraine a clear signal at a summit next month that it can join the military alliance when Russia’s war on his country ends.
In a speech to parliament on Ukraine’s Constitution Day, he suggested global leaders should stop thinking about how Moscow would react when making decisions about Ukraine and described Russia’s political and military leaders as “bandits.”
He then set out what Kyiv expects of the July 11-12 NATO summit in Lithuania after holding talks in the Ukrainian capital with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.
“We understand that we cannot be a member of NATO during the war, but we need to be sure that after the war we will be,” Zelenskyy told a joint press conference.
“That is the signal we want to get — that after the war, Ukraine will be a member of NATO.”
Zelenskyy said Kyiv also hoped to receive security guarantees at the summit to help protect Ukraine until it is accepted as a NATO member.
Duda said Poland and Lithuania were doing all they could to help Ukraine secure its goals as soon as possible. The two countries are big supporters of Ukraine, and Vilnius is buying NASAMS air defense systems for Kyiv from a Norwegian company.
“We are trying to ensure that the decisions made at the summit clearly indicate the perspective of membership. We are conducting talks on this issue with our allies,” Duda said.
Though Ukraine wants to join as quickly as possible, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is divided over how fast that step should be taken.
Western governments such as the United States and Germany are wary of moves they fear could take the alliance closer to entering an active war with Russia, which has long seen NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe as evidence of Western hostility.
“Some states and world leaders still, unfortunately, look back at Russia when making their own decisions,” Zelenskyy said in his speech to parliament. “This can be called an absurd and shameful self-limitation of sovereignty, because Ukrainians proved that Russia should not be feared.”
Russia has occupied swaths of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine, but Kyiv has launched a counteroffensive to try to retake that land.
Zelenskyy reiterated that Kyiv would not accept any peace proposals that would lock in Russian gains and turn the war into a frozen conflict.
Some NATO states have expressed concern about the arrival of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, in Belarus after leading an aborted mutiny.
Prigozhin has gone into exile in Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor, and Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wagner fighters would be offered the choice of relocating there.
“The presence of the Wagner Group in Belarus is a very significant signal which, in our opinion, NATO should definitely pay attention to,” Nauseda said. “Questions arise as to why these troops were relocated there. A group of experienced mercenaries can always pose a potential danger.”