Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met Monday to discuss Ukraine’s prospect of joining the intergovernmental military alliance.
"Today we clearly stated that we would begin a discussion about a membership action plan and our proposals for such a discussion were accepted [by Stoltenberg] with pleasure," Poroshenko said while standing next to the NATO chief.
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Stoltenberg asserted NATO would support Ukraine. "We are also here to demonstrate NATO's solidarity with Ukraine and our firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of your country," he said.
However, the move has been criticized by Russia. Moscow said the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine would not contribute to strengthening stability and security in Europe. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, reacting to Stoltenberg's comment, repeated Russia's assertion that it had never had troops in Ukraine, reports said.
Russia is worried about the development probably because if Ukraine in inducted into NATO, it would be a strategic setback for the country. The move would cut off Russia from the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and it would lose control over Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier said Ukraine’s accession to NATO would be intolerable. The Russian president also plans to build a Eurasian Union (EEU) on the lines of the European Union.
By controlling Crimea, Russia has gained access to the abundant undersea hydrocarbon resources. Commercially viable gas reserves have been found under the Crimean mainland, according to several reports. Many Russian companies have shown interest in using the gas reserves as Russia's supply of cheaply accessible gas in Siberia is running low.
Russia's control over Crimea has also been viewed by some observers as Moscow's attempt to stop anti-government wave from spilling over to the country. Moreover, with the presidential election scheduled in 2018, Putin does not want to take any chances, it seems.
A poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation in June found 69 percent of Ukrainians favor joining NATO. The Ukrainian parliament also passed a resolution last month in support of becoming the 30th member of NATO. Democratic Initiatives Foundation has grown from the Ukrainian citizens movement — Narodny Rukh — in 1992 to pursue the ideas of Rukh activists on developing Ukrainian independent state and governance, market economy and civil society, according to its official website.
However, Ukraine’s entry in NATO would not be a mean feat. To join NATO, Ukraine should not be embroiled in any territorial dispute, as per the membership criteria of the alliance.
Meanwhile, the United States is also trying to create pressure on Russia over the Ukraine issue. In June, Russia cancelled a meeting between senior U.S. and Russian officials aimed at resolving problems between the two countries. The decision came after the U.S. announced an expansion of sanctions against Russian individuals and legal entities in response to the continuing occupation of Ukraine by Russia.
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Thirty-eight people, including two government officials, were added to the blacklist prohibiting these people from doing business with the U.S. citizens and companies. On June 23, the EU leaders also agreed to the extension of sanctions over Russia for six months because Moscow failed to meet its Ukraine ceasefire commitments.