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Ukraine takes historic step toward NATO thus rejecting neutrality

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Kiev (Dec. 23, 2014): Ukraine took a historic step toward NATO on Tuesday in a parliamentary vote certain to stoke Russia's anger ahead of talks on ending the ex-Soviet state's separatist war.

Lawmakers in the government-controlled chamber overwhelmingly adopted a bill dropping Ukraine's non-aligned status - a classification given to states such as Switzerland which refuse to join military alliances and thus play no part in wars.

President Petro Poroshenko had vowed to put Ukraine under Western military protection after winning an election called in the wake of the February ouster in Kiev of a Moscow-backed president.

"Ukraine's fight for its independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty has turned into a decisive factor in our relations with the world," Poroshenko told foreign embassadors in Kiev.

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.

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 yesterday.

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."

Perhaps the most immediate threat will be to delicate peace talks this week in the Belarussian capital Minsk that Poroshenko announced yesterday.

The last two rounds of Minsk consultations in September produced a truce and the outlines of a broader peace agreement that gave the two separatist regions partial self-rule for three years within a united Ukraine.

But the deals were followed by more fighting that killed at least 1,300 people. The insurgents' decision to stage their own leadership polls in violation of the Minsk rules effectively ended political talks between the two sides.