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Ukraine is “longing for peace,” its president said, as the Ukrainian military said two soldiers were killed and four wounded in shelling by pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the rules governing global security as “obsolete” and condemned what he saw as “a policy of appeasement” towards Moscow.
“For eight years, Ukraine has been a shield. For eight years, Ukraine has been holding back one of the greatest armies in the world,” Mr Zelenskiy told the Munich Security Conference, where he travelled to speak in person despite the tensions in the east of his country.
Asking how the “biggest security crisis since the end of the Cold War” had happened, Mr Zelenskiy said: “To me this answer is obvious. The security architecture of our world is brittle, it is obsolete. The rules that have been agreed upon by the world dozens of years ago are no longer working.
“They are neither catching up with new threats nor being effective in overcoming them – just like cough syrup instead of a good Covid vaccine,” he said.
He demanded “clear, feasible time frames” for Ukraine to join Nato, and said his country would defend itself with or without international support.
“We are told the doors are open. But so far, the strangers are not allowed. If not all the members are willing to see us there or all members don't want to see us there, be honest about it. Open doors are good, but we need open answers.”
The US said that Russia has as many as 190,000 soldiers on its border with Ukraine, leading to fears in many western capitals that an invasion is imminent.
Moscow issued a series of security demands to Nato, many of which were rejected out of hand, while diplomatic efforts to calm tensions made little progress. One of the most controversial demands is a block on Ukraine joining Nato.
Russia denies it is planning to invade Ukraine and accuses Nato of provocation.
Mr Zelenskiy, who received a standing ovation as he prepared to start his speech in Munich, said he was willing to meet Vladimir Putin, to find out “what the Russian president wants".
He thanked the countries who had given military hardware to Ukraine, but added: “Everyone needs to understand that this is not some kind of donation Ukraine should be reminding or begging for.
“This is not just a broad gesture that Ukraine should be bowing down for. This is your contribution into the European and international security for which Ukraine has been serving as a shield for eight years now, a reliable shield, holding back one of the largest armies in the world. That same army which is now poised on the Ukrainian – not EU member states – borders.”
Mr Zelenskiy said reports that Ukraine has been shelling regions controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and inside the Russian border are "pure lies".