Eastern European NATO Countries Want To Help Ukraine Join Alliance

MOSCOW, Russia -- Eastern European members of NATO are looking for specific ways to help Ukraine's efforts to join the military alliance, officials said Saturday.

While Ukraine's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko has made NATO membership a key goal, and the alliance in principle has supported that aspiration, it says Ukraine must first firm up its democracy, fight corruption and reform its bloated, post-Soviet military.

"The main issue is not just to support Ukraine in general terms ... we are trying to specialize our assistance," said Andras Havril, chief of staff of Hungary's armed forces.

Havril spoke at the start of a meeting between military leaders of the Visegrad Four _ a group that also includes Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

NATO has also been wary of over-expanding, after admitting seven new members from eastern Europe last year, and of irritating Russia, which is unhappy with the prospect of its former satellite countries joining the alliance.

Havril said four military chiefs also would discuss setting up a joint battalion for peacekeeping missions, the commanders for which each country could supply on a rotating basis.

The meeting also would deal with military aspects of the struggle against terrorism, Havril said.

"Each country is developing its own capabilities, but no individual country can develop and sustain all the abilities needed in the fight against terrorism," Havril said. "So we are looking to coordinate our skills and, what is more important, to develop and strengthen mutual trust in these matters."

Also attending the meeting were Poland's Gen. Czeslaw Piatas, Czech Lt. Gen. Pavel Stefka and Slovakia's Lt. Gen. Lubomir Bulik.

All Visegrad Four countries have stationed military personnel in Iraq, though Hungary pulled its troops out a year ago.

Poland's new government has yet to decide whether to keep its 1,400 troops in central Iraq, where they have been providing security and training Iraqi soldiers, or to bring them home at the year's end as planned by the previous government.

"By the end of this year, we can hand over full responsibility in security issues to the Iraqis," Piatas said, adding that Poland's future presence in Iraq should be determined by Poland's politicians. "This international contingent has completed its main mission, to give Iraq back to the Iraqis," reports AP.

Source: Pravda