KIEV, Ukraine, March 18 (UPI) -- Ukrainian Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Tuesday accession to NATO wasn't on the agenda and the country would be defended by its army.
Yatsenyuk told residents of the country's southern and eastern regions "solely for the sake of preserving Ukraine's unity the question of accession to NATO is not on the agenda," Radio Ukraine International reported.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crimea leaders signed a treaty on the reunification of Crimea into Russia. Leaders of Crimea and Russia have refused to recognize the new government in Kiev that came to power after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last month. Crimea declared its independence and said it would seek reunification with Russia, which sent thousands of troops to the peninsula, despite Putin's denials.
Yanukovych, who maintains he's Ukraine's legitimate leader, surfaced in Russia soon after he was ousted.
The United States, the European Union and Canada have imposed sanctions on senior Russian and Ukrainian officials from Crimea, including visa bans and asset freezes, to protest Russian involvement in Crimea. Russian officials had said the Kremlin would consider reciprocal actions.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Andriy Deshchytsya were to discuss possibility of Ukraine seeking assistance from NATO to help increase combat capability of the Ukrainian army.
The military alliance also said it suspended its practical cooperation with Russia Monday.
"We consider the so-called referendum held on [March 16] in Ukraine's Autonomous Republic of Crimea to be both illegal and illegitimate," NATO said in a statement. "The referendum violated the Ukrainian Constitution and international law, and Allies do not recognize its results."
"The so-called referendum undermines efforts to find a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine," the statement said.