Much to the consternation of their Russian neighbor, Ukraine is accelerating their bid to become a new NATO member. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko signed a bill Monday dropping the nation’s non-aligned status, an important first step toward membership. Poroshenko signaled he will hold a referendum before seeking the NATO alliance.
Utilizing a press conference to enhance the seriousness of his country’s intentions, Poroshenko signed legislation adopted by parliament last week vowing to reform Ukraine’s economy and military ties with the European Union and NATO standards. He added that the final decision will be left up to the Ukrainian people.
The entire process will take up to six years. Poroshenko said, “When we are able to conform to these criteria, the people of Ukraine will make up their mind about the membership.” No official comment from the Kremlin which considers the former Soviet ally within their sphere of influence.
The country’s eagerness to distance themselves from this year’s Russian annexation of Crimea without a shot being fired is now rampant. The March insurgency of Russian-backed troops in eastern Ukraine became the last straw for the embattled Ukrainians. It is their feeling an alliance with NATO will negate further territorial ambitions by the Russian bear.
Poroshenko plans to meet with leaders of Russia, Germany and France in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, on Jan. 15 to discuss a peace settlement for eastern Ukraine now occupied by “Ukrainian separatists.”
The West has long accused Russia for encouraging and funding rebellion in eastern Ukraine with troops and weapons. Moscow denies the allegations. The Ukrainian government and the separatists agreed to a ceasefire in September. However, it has been frequently violated since the two parties have not determined a buffer zone to end all hostilities.
The question remains whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will sit idly by as Ukraine moves towards NATO membership and throws off its many economic alliances with the former Soviet ally. Ukraine presently relies heavily on the consumption of Russian natural gas which Putin could order shut off at any given moment throwing the Ukrainian economy into abject chaos. Poroshenko believes there is “no military solution” to the conflict in the east that will encourage the Russians to withdraw their troops. NATO membership will change the dynamics.
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