NATO Chief to Ukraine for Talks on Reforms

KIEV, Ukraine -- NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer heads to Ukraine on Monday for talks on reforms that the new pro-Western authorities in the ex-Soviet nation have pledged to carry out with an eye to eventually joining the alliance.

Scheffer is due to arrive in Kiev at 11:00 am (0800 GMT) Monday for a one-day visit during which he will meet with President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Defence Minister Anatoliy Grytsenko and other senior officials in parliament and government.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Topping the agenda will be progress on reforms that Yushchenko’s administration — which came to power after a toppling a pro-Russia regime during last year’s “orange revolution” — has undertaken to make as part of its drive for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.

“We and the Ukrainian authorities have to concentrate our attention above all on reaching the main goal — carrying out necessary reforms,” Scheffer said in an interview with the Zerkalo Nedeli weekly in Kiev.

Yushchenko’s inauguration has boosted Ukraine-NATO ties — in April he reinstated the objective of joining NATO as part of Ukraine’s military policy, after former pro-Russian leader Leonid Kuchma dropped it ahead of last year’s presidential elections.

The relationship received a further impulse in April, when NATO foreign ministers agreed on a three-page package of “short-term actions” designed to help Kiev carry out reforms necessary for closer cooperation with the alliance.

Scheffer called that agreement “a clear signal from the alliance member countries of support for your country’s aspirations to integrate into Euroatlantic structures,” according to the Russian translation of his interview with Zerkalo Nedeli.

“But much of the success of this process will depend on Ukraine,” he said. “NATO will be ready to support and consult it along the route.”

Ukraine has long been a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program of closer ties with former Communist states, but Yushchenko wants the nation to eventually join the West’s former Cold War-era military bloc.

Such plans, however, face several major obstacles.

For one, most Ukrainians oppose their country joining the alliance — a May opinion survey showed that 55.7 percent of the population were against it, up from 48 percent in February.

Moscow, Kiev’s traditional powerbroker which today supplies it with most of its energy needs, also opposes Ukraine’s NATO ambitions as it would enlarge the alliance’s borders with Russia and remove a major parts supplier to the Russian military.

“The attempts by Ukraine’s new authorities to drag that country into NATO are a direct threat to Russia’s national security,” Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov said recently, expressing an unofficial but widely-held view.

Finally, NATO membership would have a serious effect on Ukraine’s Defence industry which sells much of its production to Moscow — Kiev supplies engines for Russian helicopters, gas turbines for Russian ships, parts for Russian anti-aircraft systems and Russian military satellites are today sent into orbit on Ukrainian rocket launchers.

Scheffer sought to allay such concerns ahead of his visit.

“I can’t imagine a situation where Ukraine’s tighter relations with the alliance would negatively affect its Defence industry,” he said in the Zerkalo Nedeli interview.

“At the same time, Ukraine can expect new markets and real possibilities of participating in joint projects with industrial representatives from European and North American countries.”

Source: AFP