July 10 (UPI) -- Ukraine plans to begin discussions with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in an effort to join the alliance, President Petro Poroshenko said Monday.
Poroshenko met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Kiev, Ukraine.
"Ukraine has clearly defined its political future and its future in the sphere of security," Poroshenko said to reporters alongside Stoltenberg. "Today we clearly stated that we would begin a discussion about a membership action plan and our proposals for such a discussion were accepted with pleasure."
Stoltenberg said he welcomed Ukraine moving toward meeting NATO standards with political, economic and defense reforms, regardless of membership.
"These reforms are essential to ensure security and prosperity for all Ukrainians and to bring Ukraine closer to NATO," Stoltenberg said.
But any decision on membership is up to the 29 alliance members, Stoltenberg said.
The secretary general was joined in Kiev by all delegates to the North Atlantic Council, NATO's policymaking body.
He delivered a speech at the Verkhovna Rada, the first NATO chief to stand in front of the Ukrainian parliament.
Ukraine used to be part of the old Soviet Union.
But since 2014, Ukraine has battled a Russian-backed insurgency sparked by Moscow's forced annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Poroshenko defeated then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who had been publicly pro-Russia.
During the news conference, the NATO secretary general also called on Russia to withdraw "thousands of soldiers" from Ukraine. Kiev has accused Moscow of being behind a massive ransomware attack last month that quickly reached Ukraine's borders.
Stoltenberg announced the alliance would be supplying hardware to protect Ukraine's computers from cyberattacks.
Russia has repeatedly opposed NATO's expansion in eastern Europe, including Ukraine becoming a member.
"For many years Russia has been worried by NATO's military infrastructure moving closer to our borders, potentially this could be the next step," Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "It will not boost stability and security in the European continent."
In 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland became the first former Warsaw Pact countries to gain NATO membership. Other members of the Warsaw pact to join NATO were Albania in 2009, and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania in 2004.
Two others countries that were part of Yugoslavia joined NATO -- Slovenia in 2004, Croatia in 2009 and Montenegro earlier this year.