KIEV, 8 April (BelTA - China Daily) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday urged NATO to speed up his country's track for membership of the alliance, a move Russian officials said would not help resolve the conflict in east Ukraine.
Zelensky spoke with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday after an increase in clashes and Russian military movements on the border.
In a tweet after the call, Zelensky said it was time for NATO to move forward with Ukraine's long-standing desire for membership, adding Kiev was committed to defense reforms requested by the alliance for membership.
"But reforms alone will not stop Russia," said Zelensky, whose government has said it hopes to be invited this year to join a NATO Membership Action Plan, or MAP.
"NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbass. Ukraine's MAP will be a real signal for Russia."
Ukraine last week accused Russia of massing thousands of military personnel on its northern and eastern borders. According to Ukrainian media, Kiev's Western allies have rushed to its defense, with a series of statements warning Russia against taking further action.
Stoltenberg said on Tuesday he had called Zelensky "to express serious concern about Russia's military activities in and around Ukraine and ongoing cease-fire violations".
The Agence France-Presse news agency said the Kremlin has not denied the troop movements but insisted Moscow was "not threatening anyone".
Russia says its troop movements are defensive and the NATO involvement would inflame the situation, a Reuters report said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday NATO membership for Ukraine would do no good in resolving the conflict.
"We very much doubt that this will help Ukraine deal with its domestic problem," Peskov said. "From our point of view, it will only exacerbate the situation further because people's opinions cannot be overlooked in any way when you talk about joining NATO."
The reports of a Russian buildup came amid a dramatic increase in clashes along the frontline in recent weeks. Ukraine's military said on Tuesday that two soldiers were shot dead on Monday after separatists opened fire on their positions with machine guns and grenade launchers.
At least 23 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the start of the year, compared to 50 in all of 2020, AFP reported.
Russian state media Tass quoted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday as saying Russian troops have kicked off large-scale combat readiness checks.
The United States also expressed solidarity with Ukraine, with the Pentagon saying US forces in Europe had raised their alert status last week.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday Russian intentions in connection with its troop movement on the border with Ukraine remain unclear, and Washington has called upon Moscow to specify them more clearly.
He evaded a direct response to a question whether, in Washington's opinion, Russian troops might be deployed in eastern Ukraine.
"I try to avoid, if I can, speaking to specific operations here, particularly operations of another military," the spokesman said.