KIEV — Ukraine’s Parliament, prodded by pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych, approved a bill yesterday that cements the country’s neutrality and prevents it from joining NATO.
The bill, which is expected to sail through more readings before making it to the president’s desk for signature, bars Ukraine’s membership in any military bloc but allows for cooperation with alliances such as NATO.
“The main element of predictability and consistency in Ukraine’s foreign policy is its nonaligned status,’’ Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said.
The legislation is seen as a victory for Yanukovych, who during the presidential campaign this year vowed to put an end to Ukraine’s NATO membership ambitions and mend relations with neighboring Russia.
“The main task of foreign policy and security is the protection of national interests in the world, and the nonalignment policy is one of the mechanisms,’’ Yanukovych said during an address to the nation later in the day. “It meets requirements of the time, and we will strictly adhere to it.’’
Crucially, the bill allows for Ukraine’s political and economic integration with Europe, including membership in the European Union.
“Coming from our strategic national interests, we will keep cooperation with the European Union as a key partner in overcoming negative consequences of financial crisis, conducting economic reforms, upgrading energy sector,’’ Yanukovych told lawmakers.
Critics of nonalignment slammed the legislation.
“The only guarantee of Ukraine’s national security is membership in the system of collective security of NATO,’’ said Borys Tarasyuk, who had served as foreign minister under former president Viktor Yushchenko.
Relations between Ukraine and Russia declined under Yushchenko, a trend that was immediately halted when Yanukovych became president.