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Ukrainian president plans referendum on NATO membership

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (photo by AFP)

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko is planning a national referendum on whether the country should join the US-led NATO military alliance.

“Four years ago, only 16 percent [of Ukrainians] favored Ukraine’s entry into NATO. Now it’s 54 percent,” Poroshenko told Germany’s Funke Mediengruppe media group, which published the remarks on Thursday.

“As president, I am guided by the views of my people, and I will hold a referendum on the issue of NATO membership,” he said.

He pledged to “do all I can to achieve membership in the transatlantic alliance” if people voted for the measure in the referendum.

Ukraine’s east has been beset by violence since April 2014. Aspirations for independence by the ethnic Russian-speaking population there have been met with a military crackdown by the central government in Kiev, giving rise to an armed conflict.

Two soldiers killed

While diplomatic attempts aimed at brokering peace between the warring sides have produced several ceasefire agreements, violence has never fully stopped and has recently surged.

Two more Ukrainian soldiers were reported killed in the country’s east on Thursday.

Both government and pro-Russia forces said their positions came under artillery shelling overnight.

According to military authorities in Kiev, 10 other government soldiers were also wounded as clashes entered its fifth day.

Moreover in Donetsk — a stronghold of the pro-Russia forces — local authorities said two civilians were injured on Wednesday evening after their homes in north of the city were struck by shells.

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Kiev alleges that Moscow is supporting the fighters in eastern Ukraine, where a total of 10,000 people have been killed since the conflict began. Russia, however, denies the accusation.

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged Moscow on Wednesday to use its “considerable influence” with the pro-Russia fighters in eastern Ukraine to end the fighting.

Ukraine has been seeking to join NATO in order to achieve protection by accessing the alliance’s combined military force. Any attempts by NATO to admit Ukraine into the alliance, however, are expected to trigger tensions with Moscow, which says NATO already violated earlier pledges by admitting Poland and other eastern European countries in the 1990s.

In his interview, Poroshenko further predicted that it would not take Ukraine very long to satisfy the criteria to join the European Union (EU). He claimed Kiev had reduced its budget deficit and inflation and had also adopted significant measures to reduce corruption, without elaborating.

“Europe should realize that it would be more secure, reliable and happier with Ukraine,” he said.

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