Ukraine formally scraps non-aligned status

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko has signed a law revoking Ukraine’s non-aligned status as part of efforts to move the country closer to Nato, the western military alliance. Russia views Nato expansion as a threat and president Vladimir Putin last week signed a military doctrine reiterating those concerns.

Poroshenko signed the bill, overwhelmingly approved last week by Ukraine’s parliament, at an end-of-year press briefing in Kyiv. The change in status moves Ukraine closer to a formal request to join Nato, which Russia views as a threat.

Poroshenko told journalists the Ukrainian public would choose whether or not to apply for the alliance in five or six years. He said he thinks it was a strategic mistake in 2010 to adopt a non-aligned status. He says that move destroyed Ukraine’s defense forces.

Ongoing fighting this year between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists in the east has left more than 4700 people dead. Ukraine and the West accuse the Kremlin of providing troops and weapons to back the rebels, a charge Russian officials deny.

Despite the tensions, president Poroshenko on Monday announced a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Germany and France on January 15 in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

A shaky September cease-fire was bolstered in recent days when Ukrainian and militia forces exchanged hundreds of prisoners. Poroshenko said there was no military solution to the conflict and that the cease-fire deal must be upheld.

He said Ukraine will never agree – and the whole world will support it – to a review of the Minsk peace agreements. And there is a principle of international law that agreements should be fulfilled, he added.

Russian concerns
Nonetheless, Russian officials warned of dire consequences if Ukraine is invited to join Nato. President Putin last week signed a military doctrine designating Nato’s expansion and anti-ballistic missile system plans in Europe as top threats to Russia’s security.

Russia’s concerns about Nato and missile defense are nothing new. But analysts note the doctrine’s emphasis on worries of foreign influence on the Russian public, information warfare, and interference in domestic politics.

Russian military analyst Alexander Golts says Putin is concerned that demonstrators in his country are paid by western governments.

“They want to stress that so-called ‘Color Revolutions’ are something like a type of new warfare. And, of course, all color revolutions are the result of western conspiracy. So, sometimes it looks, again, very crazy,” said Golts.

In another development Monday, a Russian court unexpectedly moved up a verdict date for one of Putin’s biggest critics, opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The ruling on Navalny and his brother, for a case of alleged fraud, was due on January 15 but is now expected Tuesday.

Supporters had planned an unapproved, public rally near the Kremlin on the 15 and over 30 000 people signed up to attend via a Facebook page. Russian authorities blocked that page but new pages were created and the word spread through other social media.

Navalny led massive street protests in 2011 and 2012 against Putin’s rule and came close to being elected mayor of Moscow in 2013. But authorities have brought numerous charges against him and since February placed him under house arrest in what supporters say is blatant political persecution.

Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence Navalny to nine years in prison if found guilty.