- Ukraine’s president condemned European leaders for their 2008 decision not to let Ukraine join NATO.
- Zelenskyy’s comments followed shocking reports of mass casualties in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv.
- Germany and France shot down Ukraine’s bid to join NATO during a summit in 2008.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invited former German Chancellor Angela Merkel to look at the mass graves in Bucha, saying they were the result of her 2008 decision not to let Ukraine join NATO.
Zelenskyy’s comments came in a Sunday address to the nation after shocking reports and images emerged of mass civilian casualties in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv that was retaken by Ukrainian forces last week.
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In his speech, Zelenskyy accused Russia of “genocide” and singled out Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France, for their roles in a 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.
“Under optimistic diplomatic statements that Ukraine could become a member of NATO, then, in 2008, refusal to accept Ukraine into the alliance was hidden. The absurd fear of some politicians toward Russia was hidden,” Zelenskyy said.
“They thought that by refusing Ukraine, they would be able to appease Russia, to convince it to respect Ukraine and live normally next to us.”
He added later: “I invite Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy to visit Bucha and see what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years. To see with their own eyes the tortured Ukrainian men and women.”
During the 2008 summit, NATO leaders discussed requests by Ukraine and Georgia to join the Membership Action Plan, which is required for any country that wants to qualify for NATO membership.
Learn More: A Short History of Ukraine
While then-US President George W. Bush pressed for both countries to be given the MAP, Germany and France argued that such a step would increase friction with Russia, which had strongly opposed Ukraine’s request.
In the end, the alliance did not take any immediate action but pledged that Ukraine and Georgia would eventually become NATO members, according to an official summary of the talks. They reiterated this promise at another NATO summit in Brussels in July.
Russia has continued opposing NATO’s eastward expansion and cited it as a reason for invading Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Last month Zelenskyy said he had accepted that his country could not join NATO at the moment, telling Western officials: “It is clear that Ukraine is not a member of NATO. We understand that.”
Ukraine also offered never to join NATO during peace negotiations with Russia last week.