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Ukraine President Zelenskyy Agrees to One of Russia’s Biggest Demands

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared to accept in remarks Tuesday that his country will not become a member of NATO.

SO WHAT

One of Russia’s biggest demands for ending the war in Ukraine is that the country formally rule out joining NATO.

WHAT HE SAID

“For years we have heard about the supposedly open door [to NATO], but we have also heard [lately] that we should not enter, and this is true and we must admit it,” Zelenskyy said in a meeting with leaders of the Joint Expeditionary Force.

“Our people understand this, and we are beginning to count on our own strength,” he added.

  • But, Zelenskyy also told the U.K.-led expeditionary alliance that Ukraine needs security guarantees and additional weaponry three weeks into Russia’s increasingly brutal invasion of his country.
  • “I ask you: Help yourself by helping us,” he said. “You know what weapons we need. You know what means of protection we need. You know we crucially need airplanes. It would be extremely difficult for us without your efforts. I am grateful to you. But understand — we need more.”
  • Zelenskyy had repeatedly called for NATO to enforce a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine to stop Russian aerial bombardments, which haves so far killed or wounded 1,761 civilians, according to the United Nations.

HOW WE GOT HERE

Last Sunday, Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said that if Ukraine changed its constitution to accept some form of “neutrality,” rather than an aspiration to join NATO, and made specific territorial concessions, Russia’s military strikes would stop “in a moment.”

  • Peskov also said Ukraine must recognize the Russia-backed separatist areas of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states and Crimea as part of Russia.

The following day, Zelenskyy surprised many observers by sounding open to Russia’s demands — despite Ukraine having sought NATO membership since at least 2008.

  • In an interview with ABC News, Zelenskyy said he had “long ago” “cooled down” on Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership “after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine.”
  • And while he did not agree to a carve-out of part of the country, he said “we can discuss and find a compromise on how these territories will live on.

OK, BUT: Russian President Vladimir Putin has not seemed serious about engaging in various back-channel negotiations to half the military operation he announced Feb. 24.

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