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Ukraine moves closer to Nato bid
From the Financial Times of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 18:01:57 GMT

Ukraine’s parliament on Tuesday voted to scrap the war-torn country’s “non-aligned” status, taking it a step closer to a bid for Nato membership and angering Moscow.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, said the move by Kiev legislators to renounce military and political neutrality would have “extremely negative consequences”, while Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister, said it was “counterproductive”.

The parliamentary move could exacerbate tensions between Kiev and Moscow, but it did not appear to derail renewed diplomatic efforts aimed at securing a lasting ceasefire in Ukraine’s breakaway eastern regions controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.

Wary of further eastward Nato expansion, Moscow has staunchly opposed Kiev’s membership of the Atlantic alliance as well as political and economic integration with the EU.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 4,700 lives, 1,000 of them continued fighting between government and pro-Russian separatist forces in violation of a September ceasefire.

“It will only escalate the confrontation and creates the illusion that it is possible to resolve Ukraine’s deep internal crisis by passing such laws,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Mr Lavrov as saying.

Representatives of Kiev, Moscow, the pro-Russian rebels and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe were due to start a fresh round of peace talks in Minsk on Wednesday.

The talks are expected focus on attaining a complete ceasefire and the formation of a 30-km buffer zone. Officials will also discuss measures to address a mounting humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine, where passage of some aid convoys to Donetsk has been blocked.

Two-thirds of MPs backed the legislation to end non-aligned status. But the process for applying to join Nato is expected to last many years and may involve holding a national referendum.

Nato membership for Ukraine is also likely to meet resistance from some alliance members worried about further riling Moscow, though a Nato spokesperson in Brussels on Monday insisted “our door is open and Ukraine will become a member of Nato if it so requests and fulfils the standards and adheres to the necessary principles”.

Public support for joining Nato was low for must of Ukraine’s 23 years of independence but surged this year after Russia occupied the Crimean peninsula and backed a separatist insurgency in the country’s Russian-speaking industrial eastern heartland.

Moscow steadfastly denies sending troops or arms to rebel forces.

Justifying the shift towards Nato, the Ukrainian legislation adopted on Tuesday cites “aggression against Ukraine from the side of the Russian Federation, its illegal annexation of the autonomous republic of Crimea, waging of a so-called ‘hybrid war,’ military interventions in eastern regions of Ukraine, and constant military, political, economic and informational pressure”.

Such Russian behaviour, according to the legislation, “necessitates better functioning guarantees of independence, sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”

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