KIEV (AFP) - Ukraine's parliament took a historic step towardsNato membership on Tuesday by overwhelmingly voting to revoke the nation's neutral status, which it adopted under Russian pressure in 2010.
The Verkhovna Rada parliament voted 303-8 in favour of dropping the ex-Soviet state's "non-aligned nation" status, which prevents states from joining other military alliances.
President Petro Poroshenko has said he will apply for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) membership due to the danger posed by Russia to Ukraine's territorial integrity.
"Ukraine's fight for its independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty has turned into a decisive factor in our relations with the world," Mr Poroshenko told foreign embassadors in Kiev on Monday night.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that Ukraine's adoption of the bill was "absolutely counterproductive". The move "creates an illusion that through this bill, through an aspiration to drop non-aligned status and join Nato - which Ukrainian politicians openly talk about - one can settle a deep crisis of the Ukrainian state," Mr Lavrov said in televised remarks.
Ukraine assumed neutrality under strong Russian pressure in 2010. It had sought Nato membership in the early post-Soviet era but - its once-mighty army in ruins and riven by corruption - was never viewed as a serious candidate.
Last winter's revolution in Kiev upset Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans to enlist Ukraine in a new, Kremlin-led bloc that could rival both Nato and the European Union. And Moscow had set Kiev's exclusion from all military blocs as a condition for any deal on ending the pro-Russian uprising that has killed 4,700 in the eastern Ukrainian rustbelt in the past eight months.
Mr Putin's view of Nato as modern Russia's biggest threat has only been reinforced by this year's dramatic spike in East-West tensions over Ukraine. "In essence, an application for Nato membership will turn Ukraine into a potential military opponent for Russia," Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned in a Facebook post Monday.
He said that Ukraine's rejection of neutrality and a new Russian sanctions law that US President Barack Obama signed on Friday "will both have very negative consequences." "And our country will have to respond to them," Mr Medvedev added. Perhaps the most immediate threat will be to delicate peace talks this week in the Belarussian capital Minsk that Poroshenko announced on Monday.
Mr Poroshenko said the deal for Kiev and rebel negotiators to meet in the presence of Russian and European envoys on Wednesday and Friday was struck during a joint call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande - the West's top mediators on Ukraine. -