Ukraine’s parliament drops country’s non-aligned status

Ukraine took a further step toward seeking NATO membership Tuesday, when the country’s parliament passed a law abolishing Kyiv’s neutral, non-aligned status.

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to do away with the non-aligned status. It was adopted in 2010 under Russian pressure and prevented Kyiv from making military alliances.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said he will seek membership in NATO, the Western military alliance, as Kyiv fights Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

In comments published in Russia’s Interfax news agency, Russian diplomat Andrei Kelin slammed the move as “unfriendly.” He vowed Moscow will “negatively respond,” but did not elaborate.

Kelin is Moscow’s representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is arranging peace efforts between Kyiv and the rebels.

On Monday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on his Facebook page that if Ukraine’s non-aligned status were canceled, Ukraine would turn into a “potential military adversary of Russia.”

Russia’s relations with Ukraine took a sharp downturn after Kyiv’s Moscow-backed president was overthrown in February and replaced with a Western-friendly leadership.

Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula. Ukraine and Western leaders also accuse Russia of arming and supporting the Russian-speaking rebels in the east. Russia denies this, saying any Russian troops in the region are there as volunteers.