KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian presidential aide said on Tuesday it would not be a tragedy if NATO failed next month to put Kiev on the road to membership of the alliance.
His remarks appeared to signal that Ukraine recognises its hopes of joining NATO are receding -- at least for now -- and that it has little chance of next month securing a Membership Action Plan (MAP), seen as the first step towards membership.
At a summit last April, NATO promised Ukraine it would one day join the military alliance but opted not to offer Kiev a MAP. Despite U.S. support for Ukraine, many European states are reluctant to let it join.
The former Soviet republic hopes to secure a MAP when NATO foreign ministers meet in Brussels next month but is playing down the impact of any failure to do so.
"Even if that is the scenario, I would not make a tragedy out of it. The main thing is the doors must be open," Andriy Goncharuk, President Viktor Yushchenko's political adviser, told a news conference.
"We should stress that Ukraine is doing quite well in the framework of annual (cooperation) plans. And securing a MAP does not mean joining the alliance. A decision on joining will be taken when Ukraine and NATO are both ready."
In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said it was too early to predict a decision at the ministerial meeting.
"The process of MAP itself has become highly politicised," he told a briefing. "Regardless of the decision, we should not politicise it."
Some alliance member states say offering MAP to a would-be member is only a technical step and does not prejudge any final membership decision. Others say it is difficult to refuse entry to a state once MAP has been granted.
European countries opposing Ukrainian membership point to recurring political turmoil since the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests brought pro-Western politicians to power.
Yushchenko has long been at odds with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and had called an early parliamentary election for December to try to break the political deadlock. But that poll will now not take place, at least until early next year.
Opponents of Ukrainian membership also cite opinion polls showing limited support for membership inside the country -- no more than 30 percent of respondents want to join the alliance.
Russia fiercely opposes the notion of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, another former Soviet republic that is seeking to join, and said last week it would pull out of a conventional arms treaty if they were admitted.
Western reluctance to membership for both countries has grown since Russia's brief war with Georgia in August.
Source: Kyiv Post