President Kiev-Volodymyr Zelensky called on NATO on Tuesday to show Ukraine a path to join the Western military alliance after Russia rallyed its troops near the conflict-stricken Donbas region.
Zelenskiy’s comment elicited immediate criticism from Moscow, stating that Kiev’s approach to NATO could exacerbate the recent increase in violence in Donbas.
Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops in Donbas since 2014. According to Kiev, the conflict killed 14,000 people. Kiev reported that two more soldiers had been killed on Tuesday.
“NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas,” Zelensky told NATO Secretary General Jens Stortenberg over the phone, according to a statement from Zelensky’s office. “It will be a real signal for Russia,” he said, a membership action plan that set out the route for Ukraine to enter the alliance.
He also called on NATO members to strengthen their military presence in the Black Sea region.
“We have expressed serious concern about Russia’s military activities in and around Ukraine and the continued breach of the ceasefire,” Stoltenberg said in a tweet.
Ukraine has launched a diplomatic offensive to strengthen support from Western countries and NATO in the conflict with Russia over Donbas, warning of the strengthening of Russian troops from late March. Russia states that military movements are defensive and NATO’s involvement will fuel the situation.
Standoffs also pushed Ukrainian government bonds to their lowest levels since November.
Kremlin says rhetoric can be inflamed
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said people living in eastern Ukraine would not accept NATO membership and that rhetoric could further destabilize the Donbas region.
“So far, there is no intention of the Ukrainian side to calm down and move away from the warlike topic,” he said.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during his visit to India that Russia was concerned about statements from Kiev and was in contact with European countries about them.
The Donbass conflict broke out months after Russian troops occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Ukraine and Western nations say the Donbas separatists were armed, led, funded and supported by Russians, including active Russian troops. Moscow denied the interference. The ceasefire stopped a full-scale war in 2015, but sporadic deadly battles never stopped.
Ukraine also said on Tuesday that Belarus was too under Russian influence and wanted to keep ongoing peace talks away from Belarus’ capital Minsk.
“I don’t know where (negotiations) can be relocated. This is the subject of debate,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Reuters.
By Pavel Polityuk and Vladimir Soldatkin