Dec 24, 2014
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin
KIEV: Ukraine's parliament dropped the nation's nonaligned status on Tuesday, possibly paving the way for a bid to join NATO in defiance of the Kremlin's wishes. Russia, meanwhile, finalized a new economic alliance with other former Soviet nations it had vainly hoped Ukraine would join.
The parallel moves reflected new divisions in Europe as Russia-West ties have plummeted to their lowest point since Cold War times over the Ukrainian crisis.
The parliament in Kiev passed the bill to drop the nonaligned status in a 303-9 vote, with supporters saying it was justified by Russian aggression toward Ukraine, including the annexation of its Crimean Peninsula in March and Russian support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where some 4,700 people have been killed since the spring.
But opponents said it will only increase tensions, and Moscow echoed that view.
``This is counterproductive, it only heats up the confrontation, creating the illusion that accepting such a law is the road to regulating the deep internal crisis in Ukraine,'' said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The move doesn't mean that Ukraine will apply to join NATO. But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told the parliament the law opens up new mechanisms ``in the conditions of the current aggression against Ukraine.''
Ukraine's prospects for NATO membership in the near term appear dim. With its long-underfunded military suffering from the war with the separatists and the country's economy in peril, Ukraine has much to overcome to achieve the stability that the alliance seeks in members.
Five NATO countries _ Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland _ now share relatively short borders on Russia's western outskirts, totaling about 1,300 kilometers (780 miles). Adding Ukraine's 1,500-kilometer (900-mile) border with Russia to that would move the alliance's eastward flank substantially, and put it roughly on the same longitude as Moscow.
An alliance official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with NATO practice, told The Associated Press ``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.''
Although Ukraine had pursued NATO membership several years ago, it declared itself a non-bloc country after Russia-friendly Viktor Yanukovych became president in 2010. Yanukovych was driven from power in February after months of street protests that exploded into violence, and was replaced with Western-leaning Petro Poroshenko in May.