NATO has granted Ukraine the status of an aspirant country, which means that Kyiv has officially declared its aspiration to join the military alliance.
"NATO’s door remains open to any European country in a position to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership, and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area," the alliance's official site updated on March 9 reads. "Currently, four partner countries have declared their aspirations to NATO membership: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine."
The alliance has provided Ukraine with the status of an aspirant country after a significant delay - over the past years the Ukrainian leadership repeatedly stated that the country's accession to the military alliance remains a strategic goal for the national leadership.
According to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's primary goal is to make its army more efficient and combat ready through cooperation with NATO because of the persistent threat of Russian invasion. Russia, in turn, remains firmly opposed to the further enlargement of the military alliance and the accession of more former Soviet republics after the three Baltic states joined in 2004.
Countries that have declared an interest in joining the Alliance are initially invited to engage in an Intensified Dialogue with NATO about their membership aspirations and related reforms. Aspirant countries may then be invited to participate in the Membership Action Plan (MAP) to prepare for potential membership and demonstrate their ability to meet the obligations and commitments of possible future membership, according to the NATO's rules.
Countries aspiring to join NATO have to demonstrate that they are in a position to further the principles of the 1949 Washington Treaty and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area. They are also expected to meet certain political, economic and military criteria, which are laid out in the 1995 Study on NATO Enlargement.
On March 10, Poroshenko hailed NATO's move and thanked the alliance for the strong support of Ukraine. "I welcome the important, long-awaited and logical decision of NATO to increase Ukraine's ambitions regarding the Alliance," the president said in a statement published on his official Facebook page.
"This became a recognition of the real state of our relations with NATO," Poroshenko added. "Our next ambition is the Membership Action Plan for Ukraine. This was the subject of my letter to Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General] of February 2018, where, with reference to Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty, I formally stated Ukraine's aspiration to become a member of the alliance."
"The quiet diplomacy for advancing our principled positions, as agreed with our partners, gives its significant results," Poroshenko underlined. "We are moving forward confidently."