Ukraine’s Parliament on Thursday passed a bill to enshrine its aspiration to join the European Union and NATO in the country’s Constitution, in a vote judged “historic” by President Petro Porochenko. Parliament adopted the bill less than two months before the country’s presidential election, at a session attended by the pro-Western head of State – who submitted the text to the parliamentarians – and members of his Government.
Of the 450 legislators, 334 voted in favour of the draft, surpassing the minimum of 300 votes needed for any Constitutional amendment. “It’s a historic day!” Porochenko said before the vote.
The text adds to the Constitution references to “the strategic orientation of Ukraine towards full membership of the EU and NATO”, obliging the executive and legislative branches to work in that direction. It marks “the irreversible nature of our European choice,” Parliamentary Speaker Andriï Paroubiï said after the vote. “Ukraine will be in the EU and in NATO!” he promised.
For some observers, Porochenko’s objective is to block any attempt to change Kiev’s geopolitical course in the event of the victory of a candidate that is better disposed towards Russia. Others see it as a communications operation by the Head of State, who is far from certain to win the 31 March presidential election.
Relations between Ukraine and Russian are at their lowest ebb since Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula five years ago, followed by a war with pro-Russian separatists that has claimed close to 13,000 lives and continues to simmer in the east of the country.
Kiev and the West accuse Russia of giving military support to the separatists, a claim fiercely denied by Moscow despite many testimonies attesting to its involvement. Following its independence from the USSR in 1991, Ukraine first adopted a “non-aligned” status, since Russia was fiercely opposed to any eastern expansion by NATO. However, it scrapped that status in late 2014 at the beginning of the crisis with Moscow.
Russia has never stopped denouncing what it sees as NATO’s closing in on its borders despite the promises of non-expansion that, Moscow claims, the Alliance formulated when the Soviet bloc collapsed.