- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Recently elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Wednesday his new government is pushing ahead with plans to join NATO despite Russia’s disapproval, and said he would hold a national referendum on whether to join the Western military alliance.

“First of all, we have an independent country, and this is our choice, our course,” Mr. Zelenskiy, a former comic actor whose foreign policy views are still widely unknown, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFL/RL) in an interview. “I have always said that our course in Europe is enshrined in the constitution of Ukraine, and our course in NATO is security.”

Mr. Zelenskiy, elected two weeks ago, was in Brussels on his first foreign trip to talk to heads of the European Union and NATO in Brussels.

He said Ukrainians are well informed about the consequences of seeking NATO membership and are ready for a referendum.

Ukraine will definitely be in NATO,” he said.

Ukraine, with a population divided between those oriented to the West and those linked culturally and economically to Russia, has been a target of Kremlin pressure virtually since it gained its independence in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula since 2014 and its support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east have only exacerbated the tension.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Mr. Zelenskiy to NATO headquarters on Tuesday and called Ukraine a “highly valued partner.”

During the interview with RFL/RL, the new Ukrainian leader acknowledged European leaders have expressed disappointment with the pace of political and economic reforms in Kiev, saying it was important for his reform agenda to show concrete results.

“I don’t want to be one of those perceived by European countries as someone who promises reforms and then fails to perform the task,” he said. “I know the conditions that come with the support and we are ready.”

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