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Biden says Ukraine not ready for NATO membership ahead of summit

US President Joe Biden has said that Ukraine is not ready to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and that it needs to root out corruption and strengthen its democracy before it can become a member of the alliance.

Biden made the remarks in an interview with ABC News on Sunday, ahead of his meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels on Monday. He said that he would reassure the allies of the US commitment to the collective defense of the bloc and discuss the challenges posed by Russia and China.

The US president also said that he would raise the issue of Ukraine’s security and sovereignty with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet in Geneva on Wednesday. He said that he would make clear to Putin that the US does not seek conflict with Russia, but would respond if it engages in harmful activities.

Ukraine has been seeking to join NATO since 2008, when it was granted a Membership Action Plan, a roadmap for aspiring members. However, its bid has been stalled by the ongoing conflict with Russia-backed separatists in its eastern regions, as well as by domestic political and economic reforms.

NATO has repeatedly expressed its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its right to decide its own future, but has also urged it to implement reforms to meet the standards of the alliance. Some NATO members, such as France and Germany, have also expressed reservations about admitting Ukraine, fearing that it would provoke Russia and escalate tensions in the region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has expressed his disappointment with Biden’s statement, saying that it was a “signal” for Russia. He said that Ukraine deserved a clear answer from NATO on its membership prospects and that it was ready to reform and defend itself against Russian aggression.

Biden’s comments come amid a renewed diplomatic push to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2014. The US and its European allies have imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its support for the separatists, while also providing military and economic assistance to Ukraine. However, a 2015 peace deal, known as the Minsk agreements, has largely failed to end the fighting and implement a political settlement.

The US president is expected to discuss the situation in Ukraine with his NATO counterparts on Monday, as well as other issues such as Afghanistan, cyberattacks, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. He will also meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been at odds with the alliance over his purchase of a Russian missile defense system and his involvement in regional conflicts.

Biden’s trip to Europe is his first foreign visit since taking office in January. He attended the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Cornwall, England, over the weekend, where he announced a donation of 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries. He will also participate in a meeting with the European Union leaders in Brussels on Tuesday, before heading to Geneva for his summit with Putin.

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