Exercises, NATO Issue Stir Turmoil In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's main opposition party, sympathetic to Russia, said on Thursday pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko was plunging the country into chaos by seeking NATO membership in the face of public resistance.

Opposition Regions Party leader Viktor Yanukovich

Officials announced they had to postpone the "Tight Knot 2006" exercises with Britain, one of a series of such events in the coming months, because a political stalemate that meant parliament could not approve the war games.

Small but noisy protests over another exercise -- involving U.S. reservists in Russian-speaking Crimea -- have meanwhile underlined how divisive an issue NATO is for Ukraine.

The presence of foreign troops must be approved by the assembly, embroiled since a March election in talks between bickering liberal parties on forming a new coalition government.

Yushchenko, elected after 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests, is committed to moving Ukraine toward the West and seeking membership of the European Union and of NATO -- the latter as early as 2008. But Russia this week denounced any such notion.

"Ukraine's statehood is under threat," opposition Regions Party leader Viktor Yanukovich told reporters in Kiev. "Ukraine is in the grip of destabilization and political crisis."

Ukraine has held joint exercises with Western countries under NATO auspices since 1997.

But the Regions Party, in danger of being shut out of the new government, has led protests in the Crimea peninsula since the arrival last month of U.S. experts and equipment for a set of exercises planned in July.

About 1,500 protesters massed on Thursday in Feodosia port, focal point of rallies shown regularly on Russian television.

Yevhen Kushnaryov, a top Regions Party leader, vowed to block all parliamentary activity until the assembly investigated the presence of U.S. men and equipment in Ukraine. He called for the resignation of both the foreign and defense ministers.

"Attempts to speed up the process of drawing Ukraine into NATO are aimed at once and for all at tearing Ukraine away from Russia," he told the chanting crowd.

East-West Split

Yushchenko's election has done little to resolve Ukraine's traditional split into central and nationalist western regions favoring quick moves toward the West and its Russian-speaking east wanting to rebuild strong ties with Moscow.

But attitudes to NATO are less clear-cut. While eastern Ukraine and Crimea oppose NATO, western regions are no more than lukewarm on the issue.

Yushchenko has complicated matters by insisting all three parties behind the 2004 revolution solve serious differences on distributing cabinet posts and adopt a common stand on NATO.

Russia's parliament stoked the row this week by denouncing Ukrainian membership of NATO. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said NATO expansion to Ukraine and ex-Soviet Georgia would mean "a colossal geopolitical shift" against Kremlin interests.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, speaking in Brussels on Thursday, regretted attempts at "making a political case out of an exercise that has been taking place for years."

He discounted Lavrov's comments, saying NATO's two waves of enlargement had "increased stability and security."

Yushchenko this week said Ukrainians needed more information to counter lingering "myths" about the alliance.

Analysts said the president had complicated his unsteady position by insisting on fast movement to NATO membership.

"NATO is truly unpopular among ordinary people and, with his own help there is now increasingly active opposition to it," said independent analyst Oleksander Dergachyov.

Source: Reuters


Anonymous said…
For 72 years the Russians and Communists have ruled Ukraine and raped it in the process.

Now, these same bastards want to continue influencing the politics of Ukraine.

The world should see what Russia is all about -- an imperialistic nation run by a KGB ruler.