Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says Kyiv must join the European Union and NATO to protect itself from Russia as he officially launched his reelection campaign.
Poroshenko, who is seeking a second five-year term in the March 31 vote, accused Moscow of planning to interfere in the election.
Poroshenko also charged that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to destroy Ukrainian independence and described the nation's presidential election as a "general battle for Ukraine."
"Only full-fledged membership in the European Union and NATO can decisively and irrevocably guarantee our independence, national security, freedom, and well-being," Poroshenko told supporters in the capital on February 9.
The 53-year-old Poroshenko, one of Ukraine’s richest men, came to power in the aftermath of the pro-European Maidan protests that pushed Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych out in February 2014.
He has vocally advocated closer integration with the West and criticized Russia following Moscow's seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region and amid a continuing war against Russia-backed separatists in the eastern region known as the Donbas.
Recent polls indicate former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy will be Poroshenko's closest rivals in the March 31 election.
Ukrainian election officials said a record 44 candidates have registered to run in the election.