Ukraine Votes To Abandon Neutrality, Set Sights On NATO
December 23, 2014
Ukraine’s parliament has voted to abandon the country’s neutral ‘non-bloc’ status and set a course for NATO membership, a move immediately denounced by Russia as ‘unfriendly.’
The legislative amendment submitted by President Petro Poroshenko last week was approved with 303 ‘yes’ votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada on December 23.
A note explaining the changes in Ukraine’s law on domestic and foreign policy said that the ‘non-bloc’ status codified under then-President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010 had left Ukraine vulnerable to ‘external aggression and pressure.’
It said that ‘the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, its illegal annexation of Crimea…its military intervention in eastern regions’ and other forms of pressure created the need for ‘more effective guarantees of independence, sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity.’
The pro-Western leaders who came to power after Yanukovych fled in the face of protests last February have spoken for months of plans to renounce the neutral status, which prevented Ukraine from seeking NATO membership.
Kyiv and NATO accuse Russia of providing direct military support to pro-Russian separatists who have seized parts of two provinces in eastern Ukraine and fought government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 4,700 people since April.
‘Ukraine’s fight for its independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty has turned into a decisive factor in our relations with the world,’ Poroshenko told foreign ambassadors in Kyiv late on December 22.
Before the vote, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko described the legislation to fellow lawmaker as ‘a bill about our place in Western civilization.’
The legislation approved by parliament says Ukraine will tighten cooperation with NATO with the aim of ‘achieving the criteria required to attain membership’ in the Western military alliance.
Any accession to the Western military alliance is likely to take years, but a NATO spokesman in Brussels said, ‘Our door is open and Ukraine will become a member of NATO if it so requests and fulfils the standards and adheres to the necessary principles.’
Russia’s envoy to the OSCE, Andrei Kelin, called the legislation ‘unfriendly’ and said it would ‘add trouble and tension to our relationship.’
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was a ‘counterproductive’ move that ‘escalates confrontations and creates the illusion that the profound internal crisis in Ukraine can be resolved through the adoption of such laws.’
In a Facebook post early on December 23, before the vote, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the legislation to abandon nonaligned status was ‘in essence, an application to enter NATO, turning Ukraine into a potential military opponent of Russia.’
Moscow has frequently warned that it strongly opposes Ukrainian membership in NATO and has called for formal assurances that this will never happen.
President Vladimir Putin has suggested that the main reason Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March was the prospect of NATO forces being deployed on the peninsula.
Russia used troops and a referendum denounced abroad as illegal to annex Crimea after Yanukovych was driven from power by protests over his decision to scrap plans for a landmark treaty with the EU and tighten ties with Moscow.
The vote in Ukraine added to tension ahead of a planned new round of talks — involving representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the rebels, and the OSCE — aimed to end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
After a four-way telephone call between Poroshenko, Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande, Poroshenko’s office said the negotiations will be held in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on December 24 and 26.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine despite a September 5 deal on a cease-fire and steps toward peace, but fighting has abated this month.
With reporting by Interfax, AP, Reuters, and AFP
Lavrov: Ukraine’s Scrapping Non-Alignment Status Counterproductive
14:28 23.12.2014(updated 19:17 23.12.2014)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Ukraine’s passing a law on removing its non-aligned status creates an illusion that this law can settle the country’s internal crisis.
MOSCOW, December 23 (Sputnik) – Ukraine’s passage of a bill to drop its non-aligned status is counterproductive and will not settle the country’s internal crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday.
‘This is counterproductive and only ignites confrontation by creating the illusion that by passing these laws the deep internal crisis in Ukraine can be settled,’ Lavrov said.
The parliament of Ukraine earlier on Tuesday voted 303 to 8 to pass a bill cancelling the country’s non-aligned status and confirming Kiev’s determination to join NATO.
Ukraine has made moves toward NATO membership since the outbreak of an armed conflict in the country’s southeast, a conflict it has blamed on a military intervention by Russia. Moscow has repeatedly denied the claim.
In August, the Ukrainian government said the country’s neutral status did not guarantee its safety and stated its intention to enter the 28-member military bloc. The non-aligned status was adopted by the ex-Soviet country in 2010, stipulating that the nation cannot join military alliances.
The top Russian diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, has repeatedly warned Kiev that a neutral status was in the best interests of the Ukrainian people, their neighbors and Europe.
Ukraine’s NATO bid has prompted a mixed reaction from the alliance, with US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt saying the country was ‘far from being ready’ to join the bloc, urging Kiev to implement social reforms before pursuing NATO membership.