Ukraine Says Joining NATO 'Integral,' Refuses to Make Concession to Russia

Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Vadym Prystaiko, on Monday walked back earlier remarks in which he said Ukraine was prepared to be "flexible" over its goal to join NATO.

During an appearance on BBC Breakfast, Prystaiko said NATO membership remains integral for Ukraine. Hours earlier, he had told BBC Radio 5 Live's Stephen Nolan that the country might contemplate withdrawing its objective of joining the Atlantic military alliance—if it averted war with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Ukraine joining NATO would be a trigger for war.

Asked Monday morning about his previous remarks, Prystaiko said he was "quite happy that I have this chance to clarify my position."

"We are not a member of NATO right now and to avoid war we are ready for many concessions and that is what we are doing in our conversations with Russia," Prystaiko said. "It has nothing to do with NATO which is enshrined in the constitution."

"It is not a delay to our ambitions to be in NATO—what we are talking about is that we are not in the family now so we have to look for something else like bilateral agreements with the U.K, with the United States," he said. "So on top of NATO we are looking for some other arrangements which would allow us to survive at this particular ordeal right now."

Prystaiko said Ukraine wanted to send the message that "this is our land."

"They've been coming for us for centuries and centuries and centuries. We won't allow our state to disappear again, it has happened a couple of times in history," he said.

Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Ukraine's ambassador to the U.K. had previously said the country might change its position on its ambition to join NATO, "especially being threatened like that, blackmailed by that, and pushed to it."

"We are flexible trying to find the best way out. If we have to go through some serious—I don't know—concessions, that is something we might do, that's for sure," he said.

Western officials estimate Russia has amassed about 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border—Ukrainian officials estimated as many as 127,000.

Russia has denied any plans to invade Ukraine amid rising tensions. Ukraine's foreign minister on Sunday has called for an urgent meeting with Russia "within 48 hours" to discuss its reinforcement and redeployment of troops along the border and in Crimea.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a Twitter post that Russia had failed to respond to Ukraine's request under the Vienna Document, a series of security agreements that require the 57 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including Russia and Ukraine, to share information about their military forces and alerts about key activities.

"Russia failed to respond to our request under the Vienna Document. Consequently, we take the next step," said Kuleba. "Consequently, we take the next step. We request a meeting with Russia and all participating states within 48 hours to discuss its reinforcement & redeployment along our border & in temporarily occupied Crimea."

"If Russia is serious when it talks about the indivisibility of security in the OSCE space, it must fulfill its commitment to military transparency in order to de-escalate tensions and enhance security for all," he added.

The U.S. has warned that a Moscow-led invasion could be imminent.

Update 2/14/22, 5:18 a.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information and background. The headline was also tweaked for clarity.

Vadym Prystaiko
Vadym Prystaiko, at the time Ukrainian foreign minister, gives a joint press conference with his German counterpart in Berlin on December 20, 2019. Prystaiko, now ambassador to the U.K, on Monday appeared to walk back earlier remarks in which he said Ukraine was prepared to be “flexible” over its goal to join NATO. TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images