Ukraine's ambassador in London, Vadym Prystaiko, caused a stir over the weekend by saying in an interview with BBC that Ukraine was willing to be flexible on the future possibility of joining NATO. After the comments sparked confusion and controversy - as they were seen as a major concession to Russia - which is currently formally demanding that NATO rescind all prior verbal promises of a 'path' to joining the Western military alliance - the ambassador walked backed the comments on Monday.
He had been asked in the initial interview if Ukraine might "contemplate not joining NATO" to avoid a war, to which Prystaiko responded: "We might, you know, especially [having] been threatened like that, blackmailed by that, and pushed to it."
But in his backtracking during a follow-up Monday interview, he said the following: For now, while that membership is not available, Ukraine is seeking bilateral agreements to have more support in case of further Russian aggression. "We’re flexible enough to look for other arrangements like bilateral [ones]," he said.
The initial concession grabbed so much attention and headlines, that President Volodymyr Zelensky’s spokesperson Sergey Nikiforov publicly demanded an explanation from the ambassador. The statement emphasized that "Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO and the EU are enshrined in the country’s constitution," according to Ukrainian media. Zelensky himself then reiterated later that Ukraine does in fact seek to join NATO.
Meanwhile, after the White House set off further fears of the supposed "imminent" Russian invasion on Friday afternoon, tensions seem to have quickly calmed by Monday compared to the alarmist rhetoric coming from Washington in days prior. A flurry of diplomatic activity is continuing, as The Washington Post details:
Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday left the door open to further talks with Western leaders on his efforts to end NATO’s open door policy, when his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the scope for dialogue was "far from exhausted" and called for intensified talks with Washington and NATO.
In a meeting with Lavrov, Putin supported the need for continued talks, but underscored Russia’s concerns about "the endless, in our opinion, and very dangerous expansion of NATO to the East," referring specifically to Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance.
This as Moscow has confirmed its central security proposals to the US and Brussels have been rejected thus far. "Reporting to Putin formally on Russia’s bid to end NATO expansion, Lavrov said the rejection of Russia’s key security demands by Washington and NATO did not satisfy Moscow. But headed that there was room for further dialogue," the Post report continues.
At the end of last week, US admin officials were issuing all kinds of dire predictions to the media, saying a Russian invasion would come by Wednesday in some cases. Official White House warnings gave it "days" - while some prominent pundits and think tanks gave it as Monday.
It's now Monday in Ukraine. Deadline for Atlantic Council's war prediction officially passed.— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) February 13, 2022
Now behold Washington's famous culture of accountability at work, where the more spectacularly you fail, the higher you climb.https://t.co/z92GE9GM8d
These predictions now appear to be failing one by one - as each day passes and there's no breach of Ukraine by Russian forces. It also remains to be seen if or how Biden will respond to Zelensky's Sunday request that the US president visit Kiev in person, as bold means to de-escalate and stabilize the situation, however unlikely that scenario remains.
On Monday, Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz is in Kiev meeting with officials, with plans to travel to Moscow Tuesday to meet with Putin. From the Ukrainian capital, Scholz said the country's "territorial integrity is not negotiable."