(QHA) - Ukraine has given up its bid to join NATO but will continue to pursue greater collaboration on security matters with the alliance, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday, Stars and Stripes reports. Ukraine with the population of 45 million people, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, applied for membership in NATO five years ago. It has participated in NATO-led military exercises and in operations such as the intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the naval anti-piracy patrols off the Somali coast. Ukraine also has contributed a medical team to the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan. “As you know, the current Ukrainian leadership has decided to pursue what is called a non-bloc policy; they have decided not to pursue NATO membership,” Rasmussen said. “It’s their decision, we fully respect that, but at the same time, Ukraine has decided to continue cooperation with NATO within the NATO-Ukraine Commission.” To be noted, since 1999, NATO has inducted 12 new members, mostly former members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, as well as the three Baltic states. As reported, the effort to join the alliance has sparked strong opposition from neighboring Russia, Ukraine’s main trading partner, which has ramped up the pressure on Kiev in recent months. Moscow has long opposed NATO’s plans to expand eastward to include other nations of the former Soviet Union.