Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Harper Sides With Ukraine Over NATO Bid

OTTAWA, Canada -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a thinly veiled warning Monday to Russia to stop opposing Ukraine's NATO membership during a visit by Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Yushchenko, the father of Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004, affirmed his country's aspirations to NATO pose no threat "to any country of world." Russia views the 26-member military alliance as provocatively encroaching on its traditional sphere of influence by courting new members such as Ukraine. Yushchenko also made clear the pursuit of NATO membership is rooted in the almost a century of repression his country endured under the former Soviet Union.

That included the 1932-33 famine, at the hands of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, known as the Holodomor that claimed the lives of seven to 10 million Ukrainians, he added.

Harper said he was optimistic Canada's Parliament would endorse a private member's bill that recognizes Holodomor as a genocide perpetrated by Stalin "in the pursuit of his evil ideology."

Harper said he hoped the move would spark further acknowledgments of the Ukrainian genocide, "and it's very consistent with positions that Canada's taken for some time on several occasions on this question."

The Harper government has also endorsed the Armenian genocide, which has angered its NATO ally, Turkey.

As Yushchenko basked in the adulation of standing ovations in a historic joint session of Parliament that included Canadian senators, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, foreign diplomats and a packed visitors' gallery, Harper reiterated Canada's glowing endorsement of Ukraine's NATO bid.

NATO, along with the former Soviet republic of Georgia, is expected to embark on the first phase of membership later this winter when a formal Membership Action Plan is issued.

NATO was unable to reach a consensus on starting the action plan at its leaders summit last month in Romania. Although the summit ended with general platitudes endorsing Ukraine's eventual membership, opposition by France and Germany - who do not want to further antagonize Russia - blocked the consensus needed to start the action plan.

Harper said he planned to discuss Ukraine's NATO bid with the leaders of France and Germany when he travelled to those countries this week.

Though Harper and Yushchenko carefully avoided mentioning Russia by name, the Kremlin's hostility towards NATO expansion sat like the proverbial elephant in the room.

"I pointed out to the other leaders of NATO it is a founding principle of NATO that outsiders do not make these decisions," Harper told reporters Monday as he recalled his discussions about the Ukraine bid at last month's summit.

Earlier, Harper sparked loud applause in the Commons when he raised the topic.

"Ukraine is the only non-NATO country supporting every NATO mission in some way or other," the prime minister said. "The decision to seek alliance with others is a decision for, and only for, the sovereign nation of Ukraine."

Yushchenko said his country's domination by the Soviet Union in the 20th century has forced it to look westward to seek the "collective security" of NATO.

"Ukrainians have to learn how to bring out lessons from history . . . Through the 20th century we've declared our independence six times, and five times we lost it," Yushchenko said. "Those are probably the facts that we are using to form our national policy."

But he also acknowledged that his government must do more to sell NATO membership to a skeptical Ukrainian public, pointing out that a little more than one-third of his population currently supports joining the Western military alliance that was founded half a century ago to oppose the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Yushchenko said Ukraine's NATO membership would pose no threat to any other country because it will not permit military bases or nuclear weapons on its soil. "What is the threat that we make to any country of the world with our accession to NATO?"

Canada has 1.2 million people of Ukrainian descent, the second-largest diaspora after Russia itself, and was the first country to recognize Ukraine's independence in 1991.

Canada also led the world in sending election monitors to the hotly contested and historic 2004 election - a political battle that nearly cost Yushchenko his life when he was poisoned with dioxin that left his face scarred.

But it was the deep bonds between Canada and Ukraine that were celebrated during Yushchenko's speech. "The men in sheepskin coats, they were called, built the farms, families and fraternities" that helped shape Western Canada, Harper said.

For his part, Yushchenko did not shy away from the growing pains that plague his country's march to democracy, particularly corruption.

"The recent years have shown that the most complicated problems and challenges, including the social problems, we resolve them in a very democratic and civilized way. We are speaking frankly about our problems."

Yushchenko also was to attend a solemn ceremony on Parliament Hill late Monday to mark the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor before a state dinner hosted by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean.

On Tuesday, Yushchenko travels to Winnipeg.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

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