Top Ukraine Diplomat Says Call For Referendum On Joining NATO Is A "Provocation"

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk on Friday called opposition parties' call for a referendum on whether or not to join NATO a provocation.

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk

"Given the political forces proposing the referendum, it looks like an attempt to stage a full-scale national provocation," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying during a trip to the northern city of Chernihiv for public hearings on Ukraine's Euroatlantic integration.

The hearings are part of a state program informing people about the alliance.

President Viktor Yushchenko has made NATO membership a top goal, but many Ukrainians, particularly in the Russian-speaking east, still have a negative attitude toward their former Cold War foe.

Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the opposition Socialist Democratic Party of Ukraine United and former President Leonid Kuchma's chief of staff, has called for a referendum to let voters decide whether or not Ukraine should join the alliance.

Ukraine's NATO ambitions are strongly supported among the 10 former communist nations that have already joined the alliance. Some other NATO members insist Kyiv must first push through reforms to underpin a fragile democracy, tackle widespread corruption and streamline the outdated Soviet-era military apparatus.

The alliance has said it will help Ukraine push through the necessary reforms, but has dodged questions about when it might offer membership.

Source: AP