NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia yesterday (1 February) to use its “considerable influence” with rebels in eastern Ukraine to end what he described as “the most serious spike in violations” of a shaky truce there in a long time.
Speaking to reporters, Stoltenberg said the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine has been violated more than 5,600 times in recent days, leaving some 20,000 people without electricity amid freezing temperatures.
He called for the respect for the so-called Minsk peace agreement for eastern Ukraine and for fulfilling its key provision, which envisages a withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the area.
Ukraine and NATO accuse Russia of providing troops and weapons to support separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that seen 10,000 people killed since April 2014. Moscow denies the charges.
Poroshenko plans NATO referendum
In the meantime, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he planned a referendum on whether Ukraine should join the NATO alliance, given polls that show 54% of Ukrainians now favour such a move, Germany’s Funke Mediengruppe newspaper chain reported today (2 February).
“Four years ago, only 16% (of the Ukrainian people) favoured Ukraine’s entry into NATO. Now it’s 54%,” the media group quoted Poroshenko as saying in an interview. “As president, I am guided by the views of my people, and I will hold a referendum on the issue of NATO membership.”
He vowed to “do all I can to achieve membership in the transatlantic alliance” if the people voted in favour.
NATO and Ukraine have had a close relationship since the early 1990s, and their ties are one of the “most substantial” of NATO’s partnerships, according to the alliance’s website.
However, any move by NATO to admit Ukraine would spark tensions with Russia, which says NATO already violated earlier promises by admitting Poland and other eastern European countries in the 1990s.
Poroshenko also predicted it would not take too long until Ukraine fulfilled the entry criteria to join the European Union. He said Kyiv had reduced its budget deficit and inflation and had taken important steps to reduce corruption.
“Europe should realise that it would be more secure, reliable and happier with Ukraine,” he told Funke.
In 2016, the EU set limits to a landmark cooperation agreement with Ukraine to address Dutch concerns but said the deal did not make Ukraine a candidate for EU membership.