KYIV -- The Ukrainian parliament has defined cooperation with NATO, with the ultimate goal of joining the Western military alliance, as a top priority for the country in the face of Russian "aggression."
A total of 276 lawmakers in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada supported amendments to several laws governing foreign policy on June 8.
The amendments, which must be signed by President Petro Poroshenko to become law, say that Ukraine's foreign policy will be focused on steps to promote cooperation with NATO in order to "achieve the criteria needed to gain membership in this organization."
The document explaining the amendments says the move is a response to "the Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine and annexation of a part of Ukraine's territory" -- references to Russia's armed takeover of Crimea in 2014 and its involvement in a conflict between Kyiv's forces and separatists that has killed more than 9,900 people in eastern Ukraine.
"The experience of a number of countries neighboring Ukraine shows that they consider structures of collective security that function on the basis of progressive democratic values...to be the most effective way to ensure security and to secure territorial integrity and sovereignty," the document says.
After Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by pro-European protests in 2014, Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine and fomented mutiny in eastern Ukraine, where the Russia-backed separatists hold parts of two provinces.
In 2010, Yanukovych signed legislation imposing neutral "non-bloc" status on Ukraine, meaning it could not join any military alliance. Poroshenko signed a law abolishing the neutral status in December 2014.