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Ruslan Khomchak, military commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, speaks at a briefing following an outbreak of violence with pro-Russian separatists on the frontline, in Kiev on February 18, 2020. (Photo Credit: Genya Savilov/AFP)
Ukraine has become a ‘shield’ for Europe, and the troubled country’s accession to NATO would bolster the organization, according to Kiev’s military chief, Ruslan Homchak, who wants the state to become a full-fledged member.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, in celebration of NATO’s 72nd anniversary, Lieutenant General Ruslan Homchak revealed that Ukraine would be taking part in 15 multinational exercises this year alongside member states, with the country now one of six ‘Enhanced Opportunities Partners’. However, Homchak insists on the unlikely idea that Kiev would be accepted into the group as an equal.

“This cooperation is peaceful and bolsters Ukraine’s efforts towards strengthening national defense capabilities, and reaching the military criteria of a full-fledged NATO member,” he wrote, explaining that Kiev’s accession would be “of benefit not only to Ukraine, but to the alliance itself.”

“In recent years, the armed forces of Ukraine have become a real ‘Shield for Europe,’ and our nation has become an active contributor to the Euro-Atlantic security.”

Homchak’s words were echoed by Andrey Taran, the country’s defense minister, who said Ukraine is a “powerful outpost” on NATO’s eastern flank.

“Over the past seven years, Ukraine has firmly defended not only its own independence but also the security and stability of Europe,” Taran said. “NATO member states have clearly showed that they regard Ukraine as an equal partner.”

Joining NATO has long been a dream of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was elected in 2019 on the promise of putting membership in the transatlantic alliance to a referendum. Last month, he signed a decree defining accession as one of the country’s foreign policy goals.

For eastern neighbor Russia, classified by Kiev as a “military adversary,” Ukraine joining the US-led alliance would cross a red line. On multiple occasions, the Kremlin has voiced concern over NATO moving its military infrastructure facilities closer to Russia’s borders. As things stand, the country shares two land borders with NATO countries, Estonia and Latvia. Their accession to the group was contrary to assurances made in the 1990s by Western leaders that the bloc would not expand further east than Germany.