Ukraine’s embattled leader Volodymyr Zelensky has slammed the US for cutting Kiev out of decisions about Nord Stream 2, raged at delays to joining NATO, and said Washington has not yet asked his advice on how to deal with Russia.
Speaking to the Virginia-based Axios news site over the weekend, the Ukrainian president said he had been blindsided by Washington’s decision to halt the bulk of sanctions aimed against the Russian-backed pipeline, which links the Siberian gas fields to consumers in Germany, the first segment of which was completed on Friday. The energy conduit, which will bypass Ukraine, “is a weapon, a real weapon in the hands of the Russian Federation,” he said, lamenting that “it is not very understandable…that the bullets to this weapon can possibly be provided by such a great country as the US.”
Zelensky added that Biden had given him “direct signals” that America was prepared to block the pipeline, before U-turning on the decision. He complained to reporters that he had been forced to listen in to a White House press briefing in order to understand the move, which Biden said was inevitable given he came to office too late to stop construction. The US president also said that it would be “counterproductive” to sanction its European allies, such as Germany. To this, Zelensky asked, “how many Ukrainian lives does the relationship between the United States and Germany cost?”
Another area in which communication between Washington and Kiev has apparently broken down is in the lead up to a critical head-to-head summit between Biden and Putin, set to take place in Switzerland next week. Asked whether he had been contacted by the American leader in the lead up to the meeting, Zelensky said “not yet” but that “it would be a big mistake” were the White House to not seek his advice. “We have a deeper understanding of the subject,” he said, adding that “we understand Russia better as of now – because we have been neighbors for many years and because we have the war in the East.”
The president said that Biden’s decision to meet Putin before paying a visit to Kiev shows the White House’s “geopolitical vision: there are the ‘empires’, there are the great powers of the world, and there is everybody else.” The decision not to meet with him, Zelensky added, was apparently linked to the Ukrainian government’s decision to sack the management of the state energy company, Naftogaz.
In addition, Zelensky, who has seen his approval rating drop amid tough political opposition at home and with a sluggish economic response in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, also expressed frustration that past promises about the potential for his country to join NATO had not been honored. He said that “very wrong things are happening” but that he still holds faith that Kiev would be admitted to the US-led military bloc. “I have to point out that many Ukrainians increasingly don’t believe this as strongly as they used to,” he added, given the consistent delays and hurdles facing its application.
“I think that if we are welcome in NATO, if they really want to see us as a member, then it’s no use looking into the binoculars, into some distant future and discussing this future. The issue should be resolved immediately. We are in danger right now, our independence is at stake right now, and it is now that we need help,” he argued.
In April, Ulrike Demmer, the German government’s deputy spokesperson, said that while “NATO generally follows an open door policy,” when it comes to Ukraine “no further steps toward its membership are currently envisaged.”
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