Russia Says NATO Entry For Ukraine, Georgia Would Have Colossal Impact

MOSCOW, Russia -- NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia would mean a "colossal geopolitical shift," Russia's foreign minister said Wednesday, as lawmakers signaled to Kyiv that bilateral relations would suffer if it joined the military alliance.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

"We have said more than once that every country has the right to take sovereign decisions on who will be its partner in the international arena," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a speech before the State Duma, or lower house of parliament.

"At the same time, the acceptance into NATO of Ukraine and Georgia will mean a colossal geopolitical shift and we assess such steps from the point of view of our interests," he said.

Ukraine's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, who came to office in January 2005 in the wake of Orange Revolution protests after beating his Kremlin-backed opponent, has made NATO membership a top priority for his former Soviet nation of 47 million.

His government hopes to receive an invitation to join NATO in 2008, a prospect that has alarmed Moscow, which is already smarting at the eastward enlargement of the Brussels-based alliance into its former Soviet bloc satellites.

Georgia, a former Soviet Caucasus Mountain state that has allied itself with the United States, is also seeking NATO membership. Both Ukraine and Georgia neighbor Russia.

Earlier Wednesday, State Duma lawmakers voted unanimously, 435-0 with one abstention, for a resolution that criticized Ukraine's plans to join NATO, saying such a step would "lead to very negative consequences for relations between our fraternal peoples."

"We are not dictating to our Ukrainian colleagues how to act, we only consider it necessary to express our attitude toward Ukraine joining NATO," said Andrei Kokoshin, head of the Duma's committee on relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States, a grouping of 12 ex-Soviet states.

In Kyiv, officials expressed astonishment at the parliamentary move.

"I am very much surprised with such a decision by the Russian parliament," Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko said.

"When the Russian leader says that NATO does not pose a threat to security, I cannot imagine how Ukraine's integration with NATO can turn this organization into a threat to Russian security," he added.

Meanwhile, Russian ultranationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky became the latest Russian to be barred from Ukraine for participating in anti-NATO protests on Ukrainian territory, the State Security Service said.

"Let those who don't respect Ukraine be kept out of our country," Buteiko said.

Earlier this week, Konstantin Zatulin, another Russian nationalist lawmaker, was refused entry to Ukraine for his involvement in the protests.

Organized by a small pro-Russian party and the Communists, they opposed the arrival of 200 U.S. Marine reservists invited by the Ukrainian government to help refurbish a Ukrainian training facility to be used in a NATO exercise in the Black Sea area in mid-July.

The annual exercise will involve 40 countries, including many NATO member states.

Source: AP