Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he had “cooled down” about Ukraine’s bid to join NATO amid Russia’s war with the Eastern European country. “Regarding NATO, I have cooled down regarding this question long ago after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine,” Zelensky told ABC News in an exclusive interview that aired Monday night. Zelensky added: “The alliance is afraid of controversial things and confrontation with Russia. I never wanted to be a country which is begging something on its knees. We are not going to be that country, and I don’t want to be that president.” Ukraine’s pursuit of NATO membership has been cited by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a justification for his decision to invade Ukraine. In 2008, Ukraine applied to begin a NATO Membership Action Plan, and the alliance welcomed Ukraine’s bid, pledging that the country would eventually become a member, while declining to offer a timeline. In addition to his NATO comments, Zelensky said on Tuesday that he was open to discussions about the control of Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, which could be an opening for peace talks with Russia. “It is important to me how people who want to be part of Ukraine will live there. I am interested in the opinion of those who see themselves as citizens of the Russian Federation. However, we must discuss this issue,” Zelensky said. Before Putin launched Russia’s war on Ukraine, he signed a decree recognizing the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas, an eastern province in Ukraine, as independent states. Putin demanded guarantees that Ukraine would not join NATO in the run-up to his invasion, a demand that the alliance’s leaders repeatedly rejected.