Blinken says Ukraine will not oppose NATO membership

Blinken says Ukraine will not oppose NATO membership

Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, told the Senate that neutrality or NATO is Kiev's choice to make.

Washington would not oppose Ukraine declaring itself a neutral country, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's testimony in the Senate on Tuesday. The US wants to arm Ukraine to strengthen its position at the negotiating table, but it can't be more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians and the ultimate decision will be up to Kiev, Blinken said.

The crisis in Ukraine, which Blinken visited over the weekend with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin dominated Tuesday s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the State Department's 2023 budget.

At one point, Senator Rand Paul R-Kentucky expressed his concern that Ukrainians were being pushed and goaded by half of the Senate who want them in NATO, and that they might have agreed to neutrality, as Moscow had asked.

Blinken implied that Washington just might, as asked by Paul whether the US would accept Ukraine as a neutral state and not a NATO member.

We're not going to be more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians, senator. These are decisions for them to make, he told Paul. The U.S. military aid to Ukraine is intended to give Kiev the ability to resist Russian aggression and strengthen their hand at an eventual negotiating table, Blinken said.

The US has seen no sign to date that Russian President Vladimir Putin is serious about meaningful negotiations, according to Blinken, who said if the Ukrainians engage, we ll support them. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that some in Moscow believe the US and the UK have influenced Kiev to backtrack from the talks with promises of support. He said that trying to negotiate directly with the US and NATO did not give results, as they listened to Russian concerns and then ignored them, making it clear that it was not up to Moscow to decide its own security.

On Tuesday, Blinken claimed that the US had taken Russia's security concerns seriously and tried to engage with Moscow, and denied that talk of Kiev joining NATO may have played a role in the escalation of hostilities in Ukraine.

This was never about Ukraine being a part of NATO, and it was always about Putin's belief that Ukraine does not deserve to be a sovereign, independent country, that it must be reassumed in some form or another to Russia, Blinken insisted.

If the West continued to pump Ukraine with weapons, there was little chance of the peace talks succeeding, Lavrov said on Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Germany coordinating US allies to ship more weapons to Kiev while the State Department head was talking to the Senate. Austin told reporters after the meeting at Ramstein that he could see Ukraine eventually joining NATO.

I think Ukraine will try to become a member of NATO in the future, if the possibility exists, but that is probably a bit down the road and speculation at this point, he said.

In late February, Russia attacked the neighboring state after Ukraine s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists that the Russian offensive was unprovoked and has denied that it was planning to retake the two republics by force.