British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and attendees applaud after Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a meeting of the Joint Expeditionary Force in London on March 15, 2022.
CNN  — 

​​Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has dropped his clearest hint yet that he does not expect his country to join NATO anytime soon.

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.

“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,” he said.

“I am glad that our people are beginning to understand this and rely on themselves and on our partners who assist us,” he added.

NATO, a security alliance of 30 North American and European nations, was created in 1949 in response to the start of the Cold War. Its original purpose was to protect the West from the threat posed by the Soviet Union.

Since the end of the Cold War, many former Soviet satellite states have joined NATO, meaning Russia now shares a land border with the world’s largest military alliance, tempering Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical ambitions in what was once Moscow’s sphere of influence.

Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, and its status as a NATO partner – seen as a step on the way to eventual full membership – was among the numerous grievances Putin cited in an attempt to justify his country’s invasion of its neighbor.

Though the alliance has always had an “open door policy,” which states that any European country ready and willing to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership is welcome to apply, experts and officials have stressed that membership is a lengthy process.

It’s not a concession, Blinken says

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken called it a “reflection of reality” for Zelensky to signal today that he will not join NATO anytime soon.

“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.

Blinken said that Putin has demonstrated that this war in Ukraine is about “denying Ukraine its independent existence.”

Blinken called the US support for Ukraine “extraordinary” and said that support will continue “to make sure that Ukraine has the means to defend itself.”

President Joe Biden is expected to unveil a new package of military assistance for Ukraine, including antitank missiles, as soon as Wednesday following Zelensky’s address to Congress, according to officials familiar with the plans.

The new assistance will stop short of the no-fly zone or fighter jets Zelensky has said are necessary to sustain Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

But the new aid will include more of the defensive weapons the US has already been providing, including Javelins and Stingers.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the announcement of assistance.