Zelensky gives up on joining NATO, says he does not want to lead a nation 'begging something on its knees'
Russia is opposed to neighbouring Ukraine joining NATO, the transatlantic alliance formed at the start of the Cold War to defend Europe from the Soviet Union
Volodymyr Zelensky has announced that Ukraine will no longer be seeking NATO membership, a delicate issue cited by Russia as a reason for invading its pro-Western neighbor.
Zelensky also said he is open to "compromise" over the status of two breakaway pro-Russian territories that Putin recognized as independent just before the invasion, on February 24.
"I have cooled down regarding this question a long time ago after we understood that ... NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine," Zelensky said in an interview aired Monday night on ABC News.
"The alliance is afraid of controversial things, and confrontation with Russia," the president added.
Regarding NATO membership, Zelensky said that he did not want to be president of a "country which is begging something on its knees."
Russia is opposed to neighbouring Ukraine joining NATO, the transatlantic alliance formed at the start of the Cold War to defend Europe from the Soviet Union.
The Kremlin has been infuriated by the alliance's expansion to former Soviet bloc countries in recent years.
NATO enlargement, as well as the military posture of these new Western allies on their doorstep, is viewed by Russia as a threat.
Putin recognized Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, which have been at war with Kyiv since 2014, as independent "republics" shortly before he shocked the world by launching Ukraine's invasion.
Now, Putin wants Ukraine to recognize them as sovereign and independent, too.
When asked about Russian demands, Zelensky said he was open to dialogue.
"I'm talking about security guarantees," he said.
Watch | Amid Russian offensive, Ukraine backs away from NATO bid?
He said these two regions "have not been recognized by anyone but Russia, these pseudo republics. But we can discuss and find the compromise on how these territories will live on."
"What is important to me is how the people in those territories are going to live who want to be part of Ukraine, who in Ukraine will say that they want to have them in," Zelensky said.
"So the question is more difficult than simply acknowledging them," the president said.
"This is another ultimatum and we are not prepared for ultimatums. What needs to be done is for President Putin to start talking, start the dialogue instead of living in the informational bubble without oxygen."
(With inputs from agencies)