Zelenskiy urges NATO to fast track Ukraine's membership to send "signal to Russia"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday urged NATO to speed up his country's membership in the alliance, saying it was the only way to end fighting with pro-Russia separatists, The Moscow Times reports.

Zelenskiy spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after an increase in clashes and Russian military movements on the border raised fears of an escalation of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.In a tweet after the call, Zelenskiy said it was time for NATO to move forward with Ukraine's longstanding desire for membership.

He said Kyiv was committed to defence reforms requested by the alliance for membership.

"But reforms alone will not stop Russia," said Zelenskiy, whose government has said it hopes to be invited this year to join a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP).

"NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbass. Ukraine's MAP will be a real signal for Russia."

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Fears have been mounting of a major escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled separatists in the mainly Russian-speaking Donbass region since 2014.

Ukraine last week accused Russia of massing thousands of military personnel on its northern and eastern borders as well as on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Kiev's Western allies have rushed to its defense, with a series of statements warning Russia against taking further action.

Stoltenberg said Tuesday he had called Zelenskiy "to express serious concern about Russia's military activities in and around Ukraine and ongoing ceasefire violations."

"NATO firmly supports Ukraine's sovereignty an territorial integrity. We remain committed to our close partnership," he said.

The United States and Britain have also expressed their solidarity, with the Pentagon last week saying U.S. forces in Europe had raised their alert status.

The Kremlin has not denied the troop movements but insisted that Moscow was "not threatening anyone."

The reports of a Russian buildup come amid a dramatic increase in clashes along the frontline in recent weeks. At least 23 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the start of the year, compared to 50 in all of 2020.

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