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KYIV — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sought Monday to tamp down tension with Russia by suggesting that NATO membership for Ukraine was not on their agenda.
At a press conference in Kyiv, Scholz and Zelenskiy played down the likelihood of Ukraine joining the military alliance in the foreseeable future. With more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s border, Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared that any further NATO expansion to the east would be “unacceptable” and demanded “security guarantees” for Moscow.
“The question of [Ukrainian] membership in alliances is practically not on the agenda,” Scholz said at the press conference, which followed a two-hour meeting between the leaders.
“And that is why it is strange to observe that the Russian government is making something that is practically not on the agenda the subject of major political problems,” Scholz added. “That is the great challenge that we actually face: That something that is not even on the agenda is being made an issue.”
While Scholz stressed that each country should be able to make decisions on which alliances to join, he said it was important to “look at the reality” and seek to de-escalate tensions, just days after the US warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent.
Zelenskiy said NATO membership was a remote “dream” but added: “For us, NATO membership is not the absolute goal. That’s not a question that comes from us.”
The Ukrainian president also said that “the future of the European security architecture will be decided in Ukraine,” and added that his government was ready to discuss “guarantees” that could be included in this architecture to ensure Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
While Scholz stressed that the West was ready to hit Russia with “very far-reaching and effective sanctions” it should launch a fresh attack on Ukraine, he said he still hoped that peace talks could lead to a solution.
On that note, Scholz praised Zelenskiy for assuring him that Ukraine’s government would present “the relevant draft laws that we need for the continuation of the Minsk process,” a yet-to-be-implemented agreement to establish peace in eastern Ukraine, where a military conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces has been ongoing since 2014.
Russia has accused Ukraine of not undertaking the necessary steps that could lead to a resolution of the conflict, such as elections in the disputed regions.
“This is a good process, which will help to ensure that there can be no pretexts [by Russia] in the necessary strategy for getting out of the situation that is now in a deadlock,” Scholz said. “Ukraine is making a very important contribution here, and I am very grateful for it.”
Scholz, who has been accused by critics at home and abroad of not doing enough to help Ukraine, also stressed that “no country has supported Ukraine more financially in the past eight years than Germany.” He added that Berlin would further support the country’s economy, which has suffered from the ongoing conflict and the threat of an invasion. This would take the form of an accelerated payout of a €150 million loan, as well as the provision of another loan of the same amount, he said.
Scholz wants to travel Tuesday to Moscow to meet Putin.