KIEV, Ukraine -- NATO member countries will assist Ukraine to reform its defense and security sector, John Colston, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Policy and Planning, told a news conference Monday.
On March 17, a U.S. Senate majority approved a bill providing support and funding for Ukraine and Georgia's membership to NATO.
The U.S. State Department said they were interested in working with Ukraine on the missile shield, although many in the country are opposed to any involvement.
Colston said that relations between Ukraine and NATO "were based on fundamental and deep trends", and that Ukraine contributed to NATO's peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
He added that Ukraine's potential European and Euro-Atlantic integration was the country's sovereign affair.
Late last week, the national security and defense committee of Ukraine's parliament voted unanimously to allow foreign military units to participate in international exercises in the country.
Yuriy Samoilenko, deputy head of the committee, told a news conference Monday that the issue would soon be submitted for consideration to the Supreme Rada (Ukraine's parliament) and he was confident that the issue would be approved by a parliamentary majority.
This year's schedule provides for 14 military exercises involving the Ukrainian Army and Armed Force units from other countries. Five of the 14 exercises will be held in Ukraine.
Western-leaning Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's President, said that Ukraine's drive to join NATO was in line with the country's national interests and that it was free to choose any collective security system it preferred.
Yushchenko, who swept into power on the back of the 2004 "orange" revolution, is determined to take Ukraine into NATO and the European Union, but his efforts to forge closer ties with the West have been staunchly opposed by pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
Mass anti-NATO protests rocked Ukraine's Crimean autonomous region in late May-early June, 2006 after a U.S. cargo ship delivered military equipment to a local port ahead of a NATO exercise. The cargo was removed following the protests.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko set 2008 as a target date for joining NATO. Ukraine is already a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program.