Ukraine took a further step toward seeking NATO membership Tuesday when the country's parliament passed a law abolishing Kyiv's neutral, non-aligned status.
Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to scrap the non-aligned status, which was adopted in 2010 under Russian pressure and had prevented Kyiv from entering into any military alliances.
The amendment passed 303-8, receiving 77 more votes than the minimum required for approval.
“Aggression against Ukraine on the part of the Russian Federation, the illegal annexation of [Crimea], the waging of a so-called ‘hybrid war’ against our state, [Russia’s] military intervention in eastern Ukraine, permanent military, political, economic and informational pressure on the part of Russia, have forced Ukraine to seek better safeguards of its independence, sovereignty, security and territorial integrity,” some of the bill’s language reads.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said he will seek membership in NATO, the Western military alliance, as Kyiv fights Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Although the measure passed Tuesday is not likely to have any immediate effect on Ukraine's relationship with NATO, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the move underscored the country's determination to pivot toward Europe and the West.
"This will lead to integration in the European and the Euro-Atlantic space,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Ukraine's renunciation of its neutral military and political status a “counterproductive” step that would only raise tensions around the crisis in the east.
“It will only escalate the confrontation and creates the illusion that it is possible to resolve Ukraine's deep internal crisis by passing such laws,” the TASS news agency quoted him as saying.
Lavrov called for dialogue inside Ukraine, where fighting has claimed more than 4,700 lives since April.
In comments published by Russia's Interfax news agency, Russian diplomat Andrei Kelin slammed Ukraine's abolition of its neutral status as "unfriendly." He vowed Moscow would "negatively respond," but he did not elaborate.
Kelin is Moscow's representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is arranging peace efforts between Kyiv and the rebels.
'Forced to react'
On Monday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on his Facebook page that if Ukraine's non-aligned status were canceled, Ukraine would turn into a "potential military adversary of Russia," and that Moscow would be "forced to react."
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, took issue with Medvedev's statement.
In a tweet, Pifer rhetorically asked whether Russia's response would be to annex Crimea and invade Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Russia's relations with Ukraine took a sharp downturn after Kyiv's Moscow-backed president was overthrown in February and replaced with a Western-friendly leadership.
Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine and Western leaders also accuse Russia of arming and supporting the Russian-speaking rebels in the east. Russia denies this, saying any Russian troops in the region are there as volunteers.
In a separate development Tuesday, Ukraine's state energy firm, Naftogaz, said it had transferred $1.65 billion to Russia, a second installment on a $3.1 billion natural gas debt repayment.
The payment is part of a deal under which Moscow, which had cut off gas supplies in June as bilateral tensions escalated, agreed to restart shipments to energy-dependent Ukraine. Those shipments resumed earlier this month.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.