To the consternation of their Russian neighbor, Ukraine is accelerating their bid to become a new NATO member.
On Monday, the first concrete step was taken, when the country’s President, Petro Poroshenko, signed his name to a bill that sees the end of the nation’s non-aligned status. A referendum is to be held before they seek membership of the NATO alliance.
Last week, the Ukrainian parliament passed legislation that Poroshenko signed at the press conference. Poroshenko wants to reform Ukraine’s economy and military ties with the European Union and NATO standards.
Poroshenko said the final decision will be directd by the Ukrainian people, but this will take time, because NATO membership has conditions that are not currently met.
So as not to spook Russia, he said this conforming process will take up to six years.
“When we are able to conform to these criteria, the people of Ukraine will make up their mind about the membership,” Poroshenko said.
There was no official comment from the Kremlin, which considers the former Soviet ally within their sphere of influence.
Ukraine appears eager to distance itself from the Russian annexation of Crimea. The insurgency of Russian-backed troops in eastern Ukraine last March was sparked by US and European efforts to pull Ukraine away from Russian influence, into their own sphere. The Crimean annexation appears to have become a reason for Ukrainians to want to align more with the west. Unkraine’s leaders think an alliance with NATO will negate further territorial ambitions by the Russian bear.
It has been announced that Poroshenko will meet with leaders of Russia, Germany and France in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, on January 15, to discuss a peace settlement for eastern Ukraine now occupied by “Ukrainian separatists.”
The West says Russia encourages and funds the rebellion in eastern Ukraine, provinding support, troops and weapons. Moscow denies the allegations.
Ukraine’s government and the separatists agreed to a ceasefire in September, but that ceasefire has been violated a number of times. The two parties did not declare a buffer zone to end all hostilities.
It remains to be seen whether Putin will allow Ukraine to prepare to align itself with the West unimpeded.
Based on past performance, he is likely to make things difficult for them. It should be remembered that Ukraine depends on many economic alliances with its former Soviet ally. Ukraine and much of Europe rely heavily on Russian natural gas which Putin could order shut off at any time throwing the Ukrainian economy into abject chaos.
For his part, Poroshenko says he believes there is “no military solution” to the conflict in the east of his country that will encourage the Russians to withdraw their troops. If they are able to comply with all of the requirements needed, NATO membership will change the dynamics of the relationship between Ukraine and Russia.