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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a speech

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is pictured during his regular address to the nation on March 11, 2022. (Photo: Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

'We Understand That We Cannot Enter': Zelenskyy Says NATO Doors Closed to Ukraine

Russia has long demanded that Ukraine renounce any ambition to join NATO, which Moscow views as a major security threat.

Jake Johnson

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a speech Tuesday that his country "must recognize" that NATO membership is not a feasible goal, nodding in the direction of one of Moscow's longstanding demands as Russia's military continues its devastating invasion.

"For years we heard about open doors, but we understand that we cannot enter," Zelenskyy said during a video address to leaders of the United Kingdom's Joint Expeditionary Force as Russia ramped up its assault on the capital city of Kyiv.

"Ukrainians might be paying with their lives for the United States' reckless flirtation with Ukraine as a future NATO member."

Russia's leadership has said it views Ukraine's ambition to join NATO—a goal enshrined in the country's constitution—as a major security threat, and analysts have argued that Western countries' refusal to revoke their support for Ukrainian membership in the alliance helped spark the current crisis.

"The fact that the NATO status question was not put on the table as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin signaled that he was serious about an invasion—so plainly that the U.S. government was spelling it out with day-by-day updates—was an error, and potentially a catastrophic one," MSNBC's Zeeshan Aleem wrote in a column earlier this month.

"It may sound cruel to suggest that Ukraine could be barred, either temporarily or permanently, from entering a military alliance it wants to be in," Aleem added. "But what's more cruel is that Ukrainians might be paying with their lives for the United States' reckless flirtation with Ukraine as a future NATO member without ever committing to its defense."

In his speech on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said that with NATO membership off the table, Ukraine would need new security guarantees from its Western allies.

"We emphasize that we need new formats of interaction, new determination," said Zelenskyy. "And if we cannot enter NATO's 'open door,' then we must work with communities available, communities that will help us... We would like to have reliable guarantees that will work for us. And also for you."

Zelenskyy's address came on day 20 of Russia's attack on Ukraine, which is gearing up to combat another attempt by Russian forces to seize Kyiv.

Russia has demanded that Ukraine "make amendments to the constitution according to which Ukraine would reject any aims to enter any bloc," a reference to NATO and the European Union.

"Ukraine is an independent state that will live as it wants, but under conditions of neutrality," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said earlier this month.

On Tuesday, as Russian and Ukrainian delegates held their latest round of diplomatic talks, the leaders of three E.U. countries—Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia—traveled to Kyiv to meet with Zelenskyy and show their support for Ukraine, which is calling for an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of all Russian troops.

"The purpose of the visit is to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine," the Polish prime minister's office said in a statement.

The White House announced Tuesday that U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Brussels next week to meet with NATO leaders.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote in a Twitter post that the March 24 summit will "address Russia's invasion of Ukraine, our strong support for Ukraine, and further strengthening NATO's deterrence and defense."

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