President Zelensky criticizes the allied response to Russia’s buildup.

President Zelensky criticizes the allied response to Russia’s buildup.

Mr. Zelensky carefully navigated around one of the central complaints from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia: that NATO would not give a “written guarantee” that it would never let Ukraine into the Western alliance. Mr. Zelensky made clear he would not back down on seeking membership, but blamed the West for foot-dragging on Ukraine’s interest in joining.

“We are told the doors are open,” Mr. Zelensky said, referring to NATO. “But so far, the strangers are not allowed. If not all members are willing to see us, or all members do not want to see us there, be honest about it. Open doors are good, but we need open answers.”

Ukraine, he added, does not need “years and years of closed questions” from NATO.

Mr. Zelensky repeatedly said he wanted to meet Mr. Putin, who has been curtly dismissive of that possibility and indeed of the entire Ukrainian government. Mr. Putin has made clear that he views Ukraine as part of Russia, or at least that the two countries form one “historical and spiritual space,” as he put it in a 5,000-word disquisition on “the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians” published last summer.

Mr. Zelensky sounded bitter as he portrayed the West as having failed to live up to the commitments it made in 1994, when it offered vague security guarantees in return for Ukraine’s decision to give up a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons. The weapons had been left in silos on Ukrainian territory after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, he said, the signatories of the 1994 agreement, called the “Budapest Memorandum,” pretended it did not exist. “We have lost parts of our territory which are bigger in territory than Switzerland, Netherlands or Belgium.”

“We will protect our country,” Mr. Zelensky said, “with or without support.”

Appealing for calm, he said he had enjoyed breakfast in Kyiv and intended to be back home in time for dinner.

Leave a Reply