KIEV, LONDON, Feb 14 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO and the European Union are enshrined in its constitution and remain a top priority for Kiev, President Volodimir Zelensky’s spokesman said on Monday.
This clarification came in the wake of statements lent to the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Kingdom by the BBC, suggesting that Kiev could abandon this project in the face of Russian pressure.
“This line is not only enshrined in the Constitution but also has the full consent of the authorities and society,” the Ukrainian president’s spokesman told Reuters.
“Mr. Ambassador used the word ‘flexibility’. I think it deserves to give him the opportunity to explain what precisely he had in mind,” he added.
According to remarks reported by the BBC on Monday, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Vadim Pristaiko said that Ukraine was ready to be “flexible” regarding its goal of joining the Atlantic Alliance.
Asked about the possibility that the Kiev authorities give up their objective of joining NATO, Vadim Pristaïko did not rule out this possibility, according to comments given to him by the BBC.
“We could (change our position), especially being threatened in this way, being blackmailed and being pressured into this decision,” he said, according to the BBC.
The ambassador later clarified his remarks, evoking a misunderstanding, assuring that there was no question of Ukraine changing its position on the objective of joining the Atlantic Alliance.
He explained that the Kiev authorities were ready to make many concessions to avoid war, but that none of these compromises would concern the plan to join the Atlantic Alliance.
“Currently we are not a member of NATO and to avoid war, we are ready to make many concessions and that is what we do in our conversations with the Russians”, explained Vadim Pristaïko. “It has nothing to do with (the plan to join NATO) which is enshrined in the Constitution,” he added.
“This is not a postponement of our ambition to join NATO, what we are talking about is the fact that we are currently not part of this family and therefore we have to explore other avenues, like bilateral agreements with the United Kingdom, with the United States”, explained the ambassador.
“In fact, in addition to our objective of joining NATO, we are taking other measures which should allow us to survive the terrible ordeal we are going through at the moment,” said Vadim Pristaïko.
Ukraine is not a member of the Alliance, but in 2008 NATO offered it the prospect of membership without setting a precise timetable, this vague promise having since remained a dead letter.
Such an enlargement of the Atlantic Alliance to the borders of Russia worries Moscow and Vladimir Putin considers that he must set “red lines” to avoid this.
Moscow has massed more than 100,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border in recent months and last week organized joint military exercises in Belarus and maneuvers in the Black Sea, reinforcing Western fears of an imminent invasion.
Russia denies any bellicose intentions towards its neighbor but has warned that it will take unspecified “military technical” measures if the West does not respond favorably to its list of demands – including a guarantee that Ukraine will not join never NATO and that the latter withdraws its troops from Eastern Europe.
Diplomatic efforts have increased in recent days to try to avoid a further escalation of tensions in the region, but fears of a Russian invasion are growing and the United States now believes that a Russian attack on the Ukraine is imminent.
(Report Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Stephen Coates and Guy Faulconbridge in London; French version Myriam Rivet, edited by Blandine Hénault)