Ukrainian President Campaigns For NATO Berth During Visit

TORONTO, Canada -- Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian President, wound up a three-day state visit to Canada yesterday, telling Toronto businessmen it is only natural his country should become a member of the European Union and NATO.

Ukraine's President Victor Yushchenko speaks to the Economic Club in Toronto May 28, 2008.

"The strategic goal of Ukraine is Ukrainian accession to the European Union and North Atlantic Alliance," he said in a speech at the Economic Club of Toronto.

"I clearly understand it is not going to be easy, but for any state this is a big responsibility. There is a good deal of homework to do. But we will cover this ground successfully."

Three years ago, no one recognized Ukraine as a country with a market economy, he said. Now it has become the 152nd member of the World Trade Organization and is negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU.

He also expects Ukraine to reach a deal on associate membership of the EU within 12 to 14 months.

But economic integration must be accompanied by security guarantees only NATO can provide, Mr. Yushchenko argued.

"For me, as president of the country, integration of Ukraine to the North Atlantic bloc is essential," he said. "I'm convinced that this is a component that enhances our political presence, our economic weight in the world and most importantly it is the best response for ensuring the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state."

The Ukrainian President said he does not want to create "a confrontation or misunderstanding towards some other countries" but is compelled by history to seek the protection of NATO.

"We need to have a security environment for the life and prosperity of the country. Look at our history. Has it not taught you anything? Over the last 90 years the Ukraine has declared independence six times and five out of six it lost it."

"What was it we were lacking?" he asked. "We lacked just one thing--international guarantees for the eternity of our sovereignty."

"The best response to assure our country's sovereignty and integrity is to join the process that is specific and characteristic of the whole of Europe and that is the collective model of security policy," he added.

"All the countries that were with us 20 years ago building communism, starting with the Baltic countries and going down to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, when they became independent, they immediately decided upon their security issues. They all became members of the North Atlantic Treaty."

Ukraine should be no different.

"We don't have arguments about values. We want to live the way Europe does, within a system of democratic, social, financial and ethical values. Then one question arises. If we have a common system of values, then obviously we have to have a common way of defending them. We must have a common security policy. We can't just share values and not share the weight of defending them."

In December, NATO's member countries are expected to decide whether to allow Ukraine's application to its Membership Action Plan framework for aspiring members.

Russia is vehemently opposed to NATO expansion into what it regards as its traditional area of influence and some European countries, such as Germany, have been reluctant to upset Moscow.

Canada, which is home to 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadians, is supporting Ukraine's bid for eventual NATO membership.

Source: National Post