Five years ago, on December 23, 2014, Ukraine’s Parliament – the Verkhona Rada – voted to abandon the country’s neutral “non-bloc” status and set a course for NATO membership. The legislation was submitted by President Petro Poroshenko and passed by a vote of 303 “yes” votes in the 450-seat chamber.
The change in the law on domestic and foreign policy was explained that Ukraine’s non-bloc status that was codified under then-President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010 had left Ukraine vulnerable to “external aggression and pressure,” noting 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 legislation states that 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 NATO for Ukraine 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 fulfills the standards and adheres to the necessary principles.”
Russia immediately denounced the move as “unfriendly” and Russia’s envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Andrei Kelin, said it would “add trouble and tension to our relationship.” Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov said the move was “counterproductive” that “escalated confrontation and creates the illusion that the profound internal crisis in Ukraine can be resolved through the adoption of such laws.”
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev echoed those statements, and in a Facebook post before the vote said the move by Ukraine was “in essence, an application to enter NATO, turning Ukraine into a potential military opponent of Russia.”
President Vladimir Putin had suggested that the main reason Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 was the prospect of NATO forces being deployed on the peninsula.
The vote in Ukraine added tensions ahead of a planned new round of talks – involving representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the Russia-backed militants and the OSCE. A four-way telephone call was held in Minsk, Belarus, on December 24-26, 2014, between Presidents Poroshenko and Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.
In the five years since Russia annexed Crimea, the peninsula has been militarized by Russia, and there are reports that Russia has based nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory, in violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
Source: “Verkhovna Rada votes to abandon neutrality, as Ukraine sets sights on NATO membership,” RFE/RL, The Ukrainian Weekly, December 28, 2014-January 4, 2015.