Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country will file an expedited application to join NATO after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed treaties to annex parts of eastern Ukraine.
In a statement, Zelensky called Ukraine and NATO "de facto" allies and said his country would seek formal membership in the alliance.
"De facto, we have already proven interoperability with the Alliance's standards, they are real for Ukraine - real on the battlefield and in all aspects of our interaction," Zelensky said.
"Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure. Under a procedure consistent with our significance for the protection of our entire community. Under an accelerated procedure," the statement continued.
Putin on Friday signed four "ascension treaties" to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine after holding referendums in the area decried as "sham" elections by the West. Moscow, however, claims the territories want to be apart of Russia.
The plan elevated the stakes of the war, which Putin is desperate to turn the tide in amid recent gains made by Ukraine in its counteroffensive.
Ukraine has sought to join NATO since Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, something Moscow has fought against. While the alliance has stepped up its military support for Ukraine, Zelensky in March conceded that his country was unlikely to join.
Asked about Ukraine joining the alliance, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that "every democracy in Europe" has the right to apply for NATO membership but noted that the alliance is more focused on helping Kyiv defend itself against Russia's invasion.
"NATO Allies when they met at the NATO Summit in Madrid stated also very clearly that we support Ukraine's right to choose its own path, to decide what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of. Then, a decision on membership of course has to be taken by all 30 Allies and we take these decisions by consensus," Stoltenberg said.
"Our focus now is on providing immediate support to Ukraine, to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian brutal invasion, and then that's the main focus and the main effort of NATO Allies as we speak," he continued.
Zelensky's statement Friday didn't make clear when exactly Ukraine would file for NATO membership. However, it acknowledges that all members of the alliance will have to approve of its bid.
But the statement said it was possible for Ukraine to join under an accelerated procedure, as Finland and Sweden started its accession into the alliance this year under the same process.
"Security has no alternatives. But determination is needed to guarantee it. We are taking our decisive step by signing Ukraine's application for accelerated accession to NATO," Zelensky said.
Updated at 1:28 p.m.
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