Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has all but abandoned hopes of joining Nato, and has dropped the clearest hint yet that his country is not actively pursuing the dream of joining the America-led, anti-Russia bloc.
"For years we have been hearing about how the door is supposedly open (to NATO membership) but now we hear that we cannot enter. And it is true, and it must be acknowledged," Zelensky said.
Zelensky said this as the Ukraine war is entering the fourth week, and in the backdrop of efforts to arrive at an agreement that brings about the cessation of hostilities between the countries.
The Ukrainian president also expressed hopes that the two sides would make progress in the upcoming talks.
Ukraine's active plan to join the western security alliance was at the core of the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow that resulted in the war, the worst post-World War II conflict in Europe.
In comments made during an address by video-link to leaders of the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force on Tuesday, Zelensky appeared to shift further away from what until recently had been seen as a key Ukrainian ambition.
Stepping back from the pursuit of Nato membership was one of the key demands made by Vladimir Putin in the run-up to the escalation that culminated in the war last month. Russia had deep reservations about Ukraine joining the Nato alliance, as it would effectively make it possible for the US to deploy weapons dangerously close to Moscow.
Ukraine had intensified efforts to join Nato since the 2014 conflict with Russia, which resulted in Kyiv losing the Crimea peninsula to Moscow. When Zelensky came to power in Ukraine a few years later, the country's western affiliations grew, resulting in Russia's adoption of a more hawkish policy on Ukraine.
However, the US downplayed the import of Zelensky's public statement. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Zelensky's statement that his country was unlikely to join Nato was a "reflection of reality".
"I don't think that's a concession. I think first of all it's a reflection of reality that even before this aggression by Russia, Ukraine was not going to get into NATO tomorrow. All the more reason why as we've seen when Putin was saying that their concerns about Ukraine centered on its admission to NATO, that was wrong. That was a lie," Blinken said, according to CNN.