Yushchenko Reaffirms Ukraine’s NATO Stance

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko reaffirmed yesterday his stance that Ukraine should join NATO, despite divisions in the ex-Soviet country over the issue and a mute stance from the probable post-election government.

Viktor Yushchenko at a NATO Summit

Ukraine has grown cooler to NATO membership under Moscow-leaning Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich while ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko, poised to form a government after parliamentary polls, has not made her view on the issue clear.

“Ukraine confirms and fixes its strategic direction towards the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” Yushchenko told defense ministers of several east European countries and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Yushchenko, swept to power by the 2004 “Orange Revolution”, made NATO and European Union membership a key long-term priority and Ukraine moved towards closer co-operation with NATO.

But that trend has been put on hold since Yanukovich, long at odds with Yushchenko, said in September 2006 that Ukraine’s public was opposed to the defense alliance.

But the president appeared to revive such ambitions yesterday.

“I ask all European partners to help us in our intention to join this Membership Action Plan,” he told the ministers, referring to a NATO programme that entails closer co-operation with the alliance but not automatic membership.

He hoped a NATO summit in April would look into the issue.

Gates was in Kiev attending the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial (SEDM) group, a US initiative aiming to encourage non-NATO countries to integrate into Euro-Atlantic partnerships.

In Brussels, where NATO is based, officials have said the alliance is waiting for a clear line from Kiev before any significant moves could be made.

Tymoshenko, whose party and the pro-presidential Our Ukraine Party scored a slight majority over Yanukovich allies, has never said whether she is for or against NATO membership.

Russia is strongly opposed to any such moves by Kiev, as are many Ukrainians living in the Russian-speaking east and south.

Source: Gulf Times