Ukraine must have a fully professional army by 2015, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said on Thursday, according to RIA Novosti.

"We are planning to complete by 2015 the full transition of the Ukrainian military forces from a mixed recruiting system to a new model based solely on contracted service," the ministry quoted head of the personnel policy department Maj. Gen. Serhiy Kropyvchenko as saying.

Ukraine has long been making plans for a transition to a fully professional army, but low defense budgets (currently only 1% of GDP) have hampered the process.

At present, over 52% of the military personnel in the country`s 200,000-man Armed Forces are professional soldiers.

Under former president Viktor Yushchenko Ukraine sought close relations with NATO. To this end, the country cooperated in a combined peacekeeping operation with its neighbor Poland in Kosovo.

Ukrainian soldiers also serve under NATO command in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean.

However, Viktor Yanukovych, who became Ukrainian president in February, has made it clear he intends to drop his predecessor`s plans to seek NATO membership and said his country would pursue non-bloc policy in the future.