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Ukraine unlikely to join NATO near future

Updated: 2014-12-05 09:36

KIEV -- Although Ukraine has officially informed NATO that it will abandon its non-aligned status, the country seems unlikely to join the alliance in the near future.

The former Soviet republic is facing enormous challenges on its path toward NATO membership and neither Kiev nor the alliance seems to be ready.

NATO has provided non-lethal security aid and has expressed its clear support for Kiev in the armed conflicts in the east of the country.

The alliance's move was perceived in Kiev as a signal of readiness to back Ukraine in the crisis and even put the country's membership on the agenda.

At a Ukraine-NATO meeting earlier this week, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin officially announced that Kiev would revoke its non-aligned status, which bars Ukraine's membership in any military bloc.

While the authorities claimed that the abolishment of neutrality will pave the way for Ukraine's NATO membership, experts believe that the announcement is rather a political stunt to calm people in the conflict zone than any plan for membership in the alliance.

"By abandoning the non-bloc status, we will just return into the international legal framework, from where we were artificially withdrawn," said Igor Koziy, a military expert at the Institute of Euro-Atlantic Cooperation.

Ukraine tried to apply for NATO membership back in 2008, but NATO decided not offer Ukraine a Membership Action Plan, an essential step before membership.

Back then, Russia -- Ukraine's major trading and political partner -- considered Kiev's NATO bid as provocation and warned against NATO's further expansion toward Russian borders.

Many Ukrainian people are not positive about the prospect of their country joining the alliance. Massive anti-NATO rallies were held in Ukrainian cities back in 2008. The situation has not changed fundamentally since then. Russia remains strongly opposed to NATO's eastward enlargement.

Public opinion surveys in late November indicated that about half of the population favored NATO membership, a quarter strongly opposed it, while the rest remained undecided.

"The priority for Ukraine is stability, especially in the east, and restoration of the country's sovereignty. Only then we can take course toward deepening partnership with NATO," said Sergey Solodky, an analyst at the Institute of Global Policy.

While Kiev's readiness to join NATO hangs in the balance, NATO is certainly not ready to accept Ukraine.

NATO allies are unlikely to bring the former Soviet republic any closer to the alliance in the short run, fearing that such a step would intensify confrontation with Russia and exacerbate the already tense situation in eastern Ukraine, where independent-seeking insurgents are fighting the government.

Besides, Ukraine has not fulfilled political, military, legal and economic requirements for NATO membership.

NATO will not accept as new members countries that have territorial disputes and that do not pursue peaceful settlement of ethnic disputes.

In addition, a market economy model, which is required for NATO membership, is yet far from being fully established in Ukraine.

"We will certainly continue some cooperation with NATO and will continue to declare the intentions to join it. However, I doubt that the alliance will give us direct military assistance or accept us as a member in the foreseeable future," said Yuri Kochevenko, an analyst at the Institute of Strategic Policy.

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