Ukraine to request NATO membership

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk. Kyiv, April 2014. [US Embassy, Ukraine]

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said today (29 August) that his government will introduce a proposal in Parliament to change the non-aligned status of the country, and to request membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The proposal is also aimed at banning Ukraine’s membership in other political organisations than the European Union, putting an end to speculation about joining the Russia-led Customs Union, and the Eurasian Union, Russian President’s Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical project.

According to the Ukrainian press, the Parliament would debate the government’s proposal on 2 September.

The reaction of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to Yatsenyuk’s statement was fast. He said that he respected Ukraine’s decision and that each country had the right to take decisions regarding its security policies. If Ukraine fulfills the criteria for becoming a NATO member, and if it abolishes its non-aligned status, it has the chance to join the alliance, he said.

Game changer

Ukraine’s non-aligned status has long been considered as the best option, given the security concerns of Russia. But the escalating situation in Ukraine appears to be a game changer.

In Ukraine itself, the number of supporters of NATO membership has dramatically increased over recent months and in July, for the first time, has exceeded the number of those opposed to joining the pact.

Rasmussen also said that Russian forces were engaged in direct military operations inside Ukraine in a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border into eastern and southeastern Ukraine,” Rasmussen told reporters after NATO ambassadors held an emergency meeting with their Ukrainian counterpart at Kyiv’s request.

“This is not an isolated action, but part of a dangerous pattern over many months to destabilise Ukraine as a sovereign nation,” he added, as quoted by Reuters.

“Russian forces are engaged in direct military operations inside Ukraine […] Russia continues to maintain thousands of combat-ready troops close to Ukraine’s borders. This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution,” he said.

EU hesitates

EU diplomats said today that they needed “clear-cut confirmation what the actual situation in Ukraine is”, referring to the claims that Russia had started an outright invasion, before EU leaders could decide to task the Commission to propose further sanctions.

The ball is largely in the camp of Catherine Ashton’s External Action Service, which should provide such confirmation.

According to information obtained by EURACTIV, a presentation by Ashton’s number two, French diplomat Pierre Vimont, to EU ambassadors yesterday, was “inconclusive”.

The Commission should produce an assessment of the impact EU sanctions have had on Russia and on the member countries, before further sanctions are decided, some EU countries claim.

Asked when the Commission will produce such an assessment, Ashton’s spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said the assessment was “ongoing”.

Diplomats also said that the informal ‘Gymnich-type’ meeting of EU foreign ministers in Milan, which takes place today, could clarify the situation around Ukraine.

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.

The fighting has escalated sharply after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists. The EU resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine on 17 July of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.

Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.

On 27 August NATO and the U.S. said Russian incursions into Ukraine took an ‘overt and obvious form’ and on 28 August Poroshenko said Russia had invaded Ukraine.

>> Read: Poroshenko says Russia invaded Ukraine

A U.N. report this week said more than 2,200 people had been killed so far, not including those who died when the Malaysian airliner was shot down.

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