Ukraine has quashed suggestions by the country’s ambassador to Britain that it could drop its bid to join Nato to avoid war with Russia, ahead of a busy day of diplomacy with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, heading to Kyiv.
Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko told BBC Ukraine that the country was willing to be “flexible” over its goal to join the Atlantic military alliance, to move the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has warned would be a trigger for war.
“We might – especially being threatened like that, blackmailed by that, and pushed to it,” Prystaiko said when asked if Kyiv could change its position on Nato membership.
Ukraine is not a Nato member, but was promised in 2008 that it would eventually be given the opportunity to join, a move that would bring the US-led alliance to Russia’s border. In 2019, an amendment was adopted that enshrined the ultimate goal of Nato membership in the country’s constitution.
A spokesperson for the country’s foreign minister quickly quashed the remarks, claiming Prystaiko’s words had been taken out of context.
“Ambassador Prystaiko rightly noted in his interview that the prospect of Nato membership is established in the constitution of Ukraine, although Ukraine is currently not a member of Nato or any other security alliance,” wrote Oleg Nikolenko on Facebook.
“The key for us is the issue of security guarantees. Undoubtedly, the best such guarantee would be the alliance immediately accepting Ukraine. But the threats to Ukraine exist here and now, so the search for security guarantees becomes a fundamental and urgent task. At the same time, no decision can be made that contradicts the Ukrainian constitution.”
Asked whether or not Ukraine may reconsider its ambitions to join Nato, Prystaiko told the BBC in English: “No this is not and I am quite happy that I have this chance to clarify my position.”
Asked again if Ukraine was shifting its bid to become a Nato member, he said: “No.”
Prystaiko said the earlier BBC report was the result of a misunderstanding.
“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 conversations with the Russians,” 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 UK, 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 order right now.”
Putin has voiced concerns that if Ukraine grows its ties with the alliance further, it could be made a launchpad for Nato missiles targeted at Russia. He had said Russia needed to lay down “red lines” to prevent that.
He has also claimed that accepting Ukraine into Nato would lead to military action by Nato to reclaim the Crimea peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014.
“Do you want France to go to war with Russia?” an angry Putin asked a French journalist during the press conference after his recent Kremlin meeting with the French president, Emmanuel Macron. “That’s what will happen!”
The UK armed forces minister, James Heappey, told the BBC that the UK government did not believe that suggestions of Ukraine giving up its goal of Nato membership was official policy.
He said on Sky News that “any diplomatic solution shouldn’t be something that compromises Ukrainian sovereignty” and the country’s right to choose to be a member of Nato.
However, I added that it was a decision for Ukraine to make, and that the UK would support whichever choice it made because “that’s what sovereignty is”. He cited the example of Serbia as a country that is not a Nato member but with which the UK has close ties.