KIEV: Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky Monday said US President Joe Biden should have met him before his high-profile summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin as they could resolve nothing on Ukraine without Kiev at the table.
The 43-year-old leader spoke to journalists as the US and Russian presidents prepare to hold their first summit meeting in Geneva on Wednesday. “It would be better to have this meeting before the summit of the two presidents,” Zelensky said in an interview with three international news agencies, including AFP.
Earlier this month Biden reaffirmed US support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and invited Zelensky to the White House in July.
Zelensky said he did not expect Putin and Biden to come up with a solution to Ukraine’s years-long conflict at the summit.
“It is not possible to decide for Ukraine,” he said. “So there won’t be a concrete result.”
Zelensky is seeking Washington’s support for Ukraine’s seven-year war with Russian-backed separatists.
On Friday, the Pentagon announced a new $150 million (124-million-euro) package of military assistance for Kiev.
After a lull last year, fighting escalated at the start of 2021 and in April Russia amassed 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and in Crimea, prompting warnings from NATO.
Russia later announced a pullback, but both Washington and Kiev say that the withdrawal has been limited. Zelensky estimated that more than 90,000 Russian troops were currently along Ukraine’s borders and said tensions could still escalate.
“Any escalation could lead to a conflict,” he said. “If the number of troops near our borders has increased this could result in a massive war.”
The conflict in eastern Ukraine — including the escalation of tensions over the past few months — is expected to be high on the agenda in Geneva.
Speaking in Russian and Ukrainian during the hour-long interview, Zelensky said his country was ready to join NATO.
“We are fighting a war. This is proof we are ready to join (NATO).
“We are proving every day that we are ready to be in the alliance more than most of the EU countries.”
The Ukrainian president also accused the West of being unwilling to discuss in detail Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO and EU membership.
“I believe this is not nice,” he said.
Ukraine, which applied to join the US-led alliance in 2008, is pressing Western powers for more support as it seeks to deter any new aggression from Moscow. But NATO members remain reluctant to embrace Ukraine as they want to avoid ratcheting up tensions with Russia.
Kiev has already criticised the bloc’s decision not to invite Ukraine to a NATO summit in Brussels on Monday.
Zelensky also accused Russia of delaying his proposed meeting with Putin to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“I believe that today — I don’t know the reasons for it — they are delaying this meeting,” the Ukrainian leader said, expressing hope that a date would be set soon.
“I believe that a meeting with the Russian president is unavoidable.”
In April, Zelensky invited Putin to meet in eastern Ukraine but Putin appeared to shoot down that offer, saying the Ukrainian leader was welcome in Moscow “any time”. The Kremlin chief also stressed that Zelensky should discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine with separatists directly.
Kiev has been battling pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014, following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. The war has claimed more than 13,000 lives. Kiev and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists, which Moscow has denied.