Putin Warns Ukraine on NATO Ambitions After Biden-Zelenskiy Call

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a harsh warning over prospects for Ukraine joining NATO, saying those in the country opposing membership were anxious not to be caught in a middle of a conflict.

“At least 50% of Ukrainian residents don’t want entry into NATO and these are smart people,” Putin said in an interview late Wednesday to Russian state TV. “They understand, they don’t want to wind up on the firing line, they don’t want to be bargaining chips or cannon fodder.”

Putin didn’t indicate where he got his information on Ukrainian public opinion. A poll conducted in March found 57% of Ukrainians support joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while 36% oppose.

Putin issued his veiled threat as Joe Biden prepares to attend his first NATO summit as U.S. president in Brussels next week. It came two days after Biden spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy, a strong proponent of NATO membership, and underlined U.S. support for the former Soviet republic that’s been fighting an insurgency by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

Biden and Putin are due to hold their first summit June 16 in Geneva, following the NATO meeting. Putin has repeatedly warned against accepting Ukraine into NATO since a 2008 summit of the military alliance left open the prospect of eventual membership.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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