Russia Warns: Any Move to Join NATO Makes Ukraine a 'Potential Enemy'

By Patrick Goodenough | December 23, 2014 | 4:37am EST

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool)

(Update: By a vote of 303-9, Ukraine’s parliament passed a bill Tuesday dropping their country’s non-aligned status.)

( – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s bid to drop the country’s official “non-aligned” status amounts to an application to join NATO and therefore makes Ukraine a “potential enemy” of Russia, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned on Tuesday.

The comment, posted on Medvedev’s Facebook page, was the strongest Russian reaction yet to the move by Ukraine’s new leader to reverse his Moscow-backed predecessor’s 2010 decision formally declaring the country to be non-aligned.

Legislation to end the non-aligned policy was introduced in the parliament in Kiev, the Verkhovna Rada, last week.

“[The] Ukrainian president has submitted to the Verkhovna Rada a bill on dropping Ukraine’s non-aligned status,” wrote Medvedev. “Essentially, this is a bid to join NATO, which turns Ukraine into a potential enemy of Russia.”

Medvedev also reiterated Russia’s objections to new U.S. legislation, signed by President Obama last Thursday, authorizing military aid to Ukraine and additional sanctions against Russia in response to its intervention in eastern Ukraine.

“Our relations with America will be poisoned for decades to come,” he wrote, equating the Ukraine Freedom Support Act with the Jackson-Vanik amendment. (The application of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment to Russia linked trade ties to free emigration for Jews and other religious minorities. Obama signed the law repealing it two years ago.)

Although the Ukraine Freedom Support Act is now law, Obama said after signing it he has no plans at this time to extend sanctions under it.

Medvedev said that the two developments – Ukraine’s plan to abandon formal non-alignment and the new U.S. sanctions legislation – “will have extremely deplorable aftermaths and our country will have to react to them.”

Ukraine’s non-aligned status law prohibits it from seeking membership in any military-political alliance.

When Poroshenko submitted draft legislation last week to change it, he said the policy had been a “mistake” and was proven ineffective in the face of foreign aggression – a reference to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and other destabilizing actions in eastern Ukraine this year.

Poroshenko said the law change would not mean entering NATO, “but we are resuming Euro-Atlantic integration.”

He urged the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada to advance the legislation without delay.

Even if the non-alignment policy is dropped, the road to NATO membership will be a long and uphill one for Kiev.

After Russia itself, Ukraine was the most important republic in the Soviet Union and the Kremlin has long been vehemently opposed to the prospect of it joining the string of former Moscow allies that have joined NATO since 1999.

In 2008, NATO members considered granting “membership action plans” (MAPs) – the formal roadmap to joining the transatlantic alliance – to both Ukraine and Georgia, but European members fretful about an angry Russian reaction, including the likely impact on Russia gas imports, drew back.

Instead of being offered an MAP the two aspirants had to be satisfied with a statement that they “will become” members at some unspecified future point.

In 2010 a Western-leaning government in Kiev was succeeded by a pro-Russian one, and four months after President Viktor Yanukovich took office lawmakers passed a law embracing non-alignment as official policy.

Underlining the death-knell for the NATO ambition, Yanukovich also issued a decree dissolving an official commission that had been working towards eventual membership. Ukraine had returned to “a policy of peace, good-neighborliness and national pragmatism,” he told the Ukrainian people.

The shift was welcomed at the time by Medvedev – then Russian president – who said, “We have always maintained a simple view of Ukraine's accession to NATO: it would destroy European security. It is a sensitive issue for us.”

Yanukovich was ousted last February in what Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains was a Western-backed “coup.”

During the security crisis that has plagued Ukraine ever since, NATO has offered Kiev political and practical backing.

But a declaration at a summit in Wales last September said nothing about eventual NATO membership, instead simply expressing support for Ukraine’s “European aspiration.”

In a newspaper interview published last week Medvedev mocked Ukraine’s leaders for thinking that the E.U. was interested.

“No one is hurrying to invite Ukraine to the common European table as an equal partner,” he told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.. “They aren’t even offering a side chair; they are deliberately putting this country in a position of a girl who goes on dates that never end in marriage.”

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