Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.K., said on Feb. 13 that Ukraine might contemplate the possibility of not joining NATO if this averts a further Russian invasion. The statement triggered a controversy in Ukraine.
The statement comes amid the U.S. warnings that Russia might attack Ukraine at any moment. Ukraine's commitment to not join NATO was one of the key security demands that Russia sent to the West, as it massed more than 140,000 troops near Ukraine and inside the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories.
When asked by BBC if Ukraine will contemplate not joining NATO, Prystaiko said: “We might, especially being threatened like that, blackmailed by that, and pushed to it.”
He mentioned, however, that Ukraine’s commitment to join NATO is stipulated by its Constitution.
“This is what is written in our Constitution, and by saying ‘might’ I go against the major document we have,” Prystaiko said. “What I’m saying here is that we are flexible and trying to find the best way out. If we have to go through some serious concessions, that’s something we might do, that’s for sure. I don’t believe we will do this, you were asking whether we contemplate the possibility.”
Oleg Nykolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, said Prystaiko’s words had been taken out of context by the media.
He said that Ukraine’s Constitution stipulates joining NATO, and no decisions can contradict the Constitution.
“The best guarantee would be Ukraine’s immediate accession to the alliance,” Nykolenko said. “But Ukraine faces threats here and now, and that’s why the search for guarantees is becoming the fundamental task.”
Following media reports about the comments, the Ukrainian Embassy to the U.K. published a statement to clarify there is no change in Ukraine's plans for NATO membership.
"People in Ukraine want to live their lives in peace and quiet, feeling safe in their country. NATO is the only way to have it in our part of the globe," Prystaiko said on Twitter.