Ukraine NATO Membership Is Denied as Germany Seeks Easing

April 1 (Bloomberg) -- Germany’s top diplomat said Ukraine won’t join NATO and urged Russia to move troops away from the Ukrainian border, saying it would be a “small signal” that the crisis is easing.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his French and Polish counterparts, Laurent Fabius and Radoslaw Sikorski, said the European Union should forge closer ties with former Soviet republics without harming relations with Russia. The three met today in the eastern German city of Weimar.

“We’re all determined not to allow this threat of a new division of Europe,” Steinmeier told reporters. Asked whether he sees Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he said, “I don’t see a path to NATO membership.”

Russia’s annexation of Crimea after the fall of Ukraine’s Moscow-backed government spurred Germany, France and Poland to find a joint position on Eastern Europe as they met in the town where the format, known as the Weimar Triangle, had its debut in 1991, the year the Soviet Union broke up.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stopped short of backing her foreign minister, pointing to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s statement that his country doesn’t plan to seek NATO membership. “Let me just quote the Ukrainian prime minister,” she told reporters in Berlin today.

Russian Troops

Steinmeier’s statement is “unacceptable,” Rasa Jukneviciene, a Lithuanian lawmaker and former defense minister, said on her Facebook page. “That sort of premature talk just pushes Ukraine back toward Russia and increases the Kremlin’s appetite.”

Foreign ministers of NATO nations meeting in Brussels today are weighing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pledge in a phone call with Merkel that some of his troops would pull back from near Ukraine.

“We hope that the retreat of Russian soldiers from Ukrainian borders has seriously started,” Sikorski said. “You see already that the price being paid by Russia for the annexation will be high.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Weimar, Germany at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net Tony Czuczka, Eddie Buckle