Lavrov Assures Kiev That Putin Respects Ukraine's Sovereignty

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia's top diplomat gave assurances, this week, that in a recent speech to NATO leaders, President Vladimir Putin did not seek to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L) and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko.

During the April 2-4 Bucharest summit, Putin gave a closed-door speech to NATO leaders, which reportedly focused on Russian opposition to some NATO members' plans to admit Ukraine and Georgia to the alliance.

"I am convinced that all those who attended the Russia-NATO Council session in Bucharest and then attempted to give Ukraine their interpretation of what the Russian president said, did so with ill intent. The Russian president said nothing that would infringe on Ukraine's sovereignty," Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Ohryzko.

Around the time of the summit, media speculated over a possible deal between the Kremlin and Washington, under which Moscow would tolerate a missile shield in Central Europe in exchange for NATO allowing Georgia and Ukraine to fall back into Moscow's sphere of influence. Just before the summit, Bush rejected such rumors.

At the summit, NATO powers refused to admit Georgia and Ukraine to the alliance's Membership Action Plan, despite Bush's strong support of the countries' bids. The rejection was seen as a response to Putin's threat to target missiles at Ukraine if Kiev joins NATO.

Last week, Lavrov reiterated that Russia would do everything possible to prevent Ukraine and Georgia from being admitted to NATO.

In reaction to Moscow's statements on the issue, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry demanded last Saturday that Russian authorities "stop the practice of threats" against Kiev, saying: "Statements by high-ranking Russian officials are anti-Ukrainian... and constitute direct interference in Ukraine's internal affairs."

Speaking after the meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Ohryzko gave assurances that Ukraine's drive to join NATO is not targeted against Moscow. NATO is set to reconsider Kiev's bid this December.

"Once Ukraine is a member of NATO it will not be Ukraine against Russia. Membership in the alliance is not targeted against interests of the Russian Federation," he said.

The diplomat also said the country's Constitution forbids the deployment of foreign military bases on its territory, and that a final decision on NATO membership will be made on the basis of a nationwide referendum.

In a recent survey carried out by the All-Ukrainian Social Service only 11.1% of Ukrainians polled said they supported the country's drive to join NATO, while almost 36% said they would vote against the plans if a referendum were held.

Source: Tehran Times

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