Ukraine takes historic step toward NATO

Ukraine took a historic step toward NATO on Tuesday in a parliamentary vote certain to stoke Russia’s anger ahead of talks on ending the ex-Soviet state’s separatist war.

Lawmakers in the government-controlled chamber overwhelmingly adopted a bill dropping Ukraine’s non-aligned status — a classification given to states such as Switzerland that refuse to join military alliances and thus play no part in wars.

President Petro Poroshenko had vowed to put Ukraine under Western military protection after winning an election called in the wake of the February ouster in Kiev of a Moscow-backed President. “Ukraine’s fight for its independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty has turned into a decisive factor in our relations with the world,” Mr. Poroshenko told foreign ambassadors in Kiev on Monday night.

Ukraine assumed neutrality under strong Russian pressure in 2010. It had sought NATO membership in the early post-Soviet era but its once-mighty army — in ruins and riven by corruption — was never viewed as a serious candidate.

Last winter’s revolution in Kiev upset Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to enlist Ukraine in a new, Kremlin-led bloc that could rival both NATO and the European Union. And Moscow had set Kiev’s exclusion from all military blocs as a condition for any deal on ending the pro-Russian uprising that has killed 4,700 people in the eastern Ukrainian rustbelt in the past eight months.

Mr. Putin’s view of NATO as modern Russia’s biggest threat has only been reinforced by this year’s dramatic spike in East-West tensions over Ukraine.

“In essence, an application for NATO membership will turn Ukraine into a potential military opponent for Russia,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned in a Facebook post on Monday.

He said that Ukraine’s rejection of neutrality and a new Russian sanctions law that U.S. President Barack Obama signed on Friday “will both have very negative consequences.”

“And our country will have to respond to them,” Mr. Medvedev added.

Perhaps the most immediate threat will be to delicate peace talks this week in the Belarussian capital Minsk that Mr. Poroshenko announced on Tuesday. — AFP

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