KIEV/MOSCOW: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he had "cooled down" about Ukraine's bid to join NATO amid Russia's war with the Eastern European country, report agencies.
"Regarding NATO, I have cooled down regarding this question long ago after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine," Zelensky told ABC News in an exclusive interview that aired Monday night.
Ukraine's pursuit of NATO membership has been cited by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a justification for his decision to invade Ukraine.
In 2008, Ukraine applied to begin a NATO Membership Action Plan, and the alliance welcomed Ukraine's bid, pledging that the country would eventually become a member, while declining to offer a timeline.
In addition to his NATO comments, Zelensky said on Tuesday that he was open to discussions about the control of Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, which could be an opening for peace talks with Russia.
"It is important to me how people who want to be part of Ukraine will live there. I am interested in the opinion of those who see themselves as citizens of the Russian Federation. However, we must discuss this issue," Zelensky said.
Before Putin launched Russia's war on Ukraine, he signed a decree recognising the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas, an eastern region in Ukraine, as independent states. Putin demanded guarantees that Ukraine would not join NATO in the run-up to his invasion, a demand the alliance's leaders repeatedly rejected.
Meanwhile, Russia said Wednesday that negotiations with Kyiv to resolve the Ukraine conflict were making headway and underscored that Moscow's troops were not working to topple the Ukrainian government.
"Some progress has been made," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during a press briefing, referring to three rounds of talks with Kyiv.
Ukraine and Russia officials have been meeting on the Belarus-Poland border for talks to end fighting.
She also said Moscow does not intend to occupy Ukraine or overthrow its government.
The army's aim is "not to occupy Ukraine, or the destruction of its statehood, or the overthrow of the government. It is not directed against the civilian population," Zakharova said.
President Vladimir Putin has said he sent in troops to Ukraine in order to "de-Nazify" the country.
Beside, Russia and Ukraine agreed to open more humanitarian corridors on Wednesday to evacuate terrified civilians from bombarded cities, while new concerns emerged over the Chernobyl nuclear plant after a power cut.
As fighting raged on the 14th day of the invasion, safe routes were opening out of five Ukrainian areas including suburbs of the capital Kyiv that have been devastated by Russian shelling and air strikes.
Russian troops were seen by AFP Wednesday pushing closer to the capital Kyiv, while Moscow accused the United States of waging "economic war" through a barrage of sanctions.
With Ukrainian cities still being pummelled, President Volodmyr Zelensky urged Western powers to decide on a Polish offer to supply his country with fighter jets, after Washington rejected an initial plan.
"We ask you again to decide as soon as possible. Send us planes," he said.
Russia's war has sent around 2.2 million refugees across Ukraine's borders in what the UN has called Europe's fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II, and sparked fears of wider conflict.
Fears are mounting that Russia will encircle Kyiv, where an orchestra performed in the city's famous Maidan Square in a morale-boosting concert that included the EU anthem "Ode to Joy".