Ukraine kick-started the process to strengthen ties with NATO and join the alliance in the “short term” after President Petro Poroshenko declared the worst of its separatist war was over.
The country of more than 40 million people is holding talks today in Berlin to resolve a dispute over natural gas supply before the onset of winter. Russia stopped selling the fuel to Ukraine in June without pre-payment after raising the price 81 percent, which has prompted officials in Kiev to urge companies and households to cut consumption. Russian gas exporter OAO Gazprom (GAZP) says Ukraine owes it $5.3 billion.
Ukraine’s push to end its neutral status and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will probably exacerbate the worst standoff between Russia and its former Cold War foes since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Sporadic fighting between pro-Russian rebels and government troops in the eastern Donetsk region of the former Soviet Republic is threatening a shaky cease-fire reached three weeks ago.
“The cabinet has submitted a draft law to parliament that envisages the cancellation of our non-aligned status and ensuring a European integration course to create grounds for Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic security space,” the administration in Kiev said in an e-mailed statement today. “Ukraine’s government underlines that Ukraine’s aim is to receive special partner status with NATO now and membership in the short term.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the U.S. and European Union countries for encroaching into former communist eastern Europe, saying they have violated agreements signed at the end of the Cold War and pose a threat to his country’s national security.
“In Russia’s eyes, NATO is an enemy,” Martin Stropnicky, defense minister in NATO member Czech Republic, told Bloomberg in an interview yesterday. “In this situation, thinking about some hypothetical possibility of Ukraine’s entry to NATO would probably be the best way to prevent any agreement on stabilizing the situation there.”
The U.S. and EU have imposed sanctions on Russian people and companies they blame for fueling a conflict that has killed more than 3,500 people in eastern Ukraine, according to United Nations estimates. Russia denies stoking the conflict, which erupted after Putin annexed Crimea in March.