NATO Reviews Ukraine Entry Hopes

KIEV, Ukraine -- A top NATO delegation is beginning a two-day tour of Ukraine to discuss the next stages towards the country's possible membership of the alliance.

A Communist anti-NATO demonstrator in Kiev.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is being accompanied on the trip by representatives of the 26 NATO member states.

But while Ukraine's government is keen to join the alliance, its population is split on the issue, correspondents say.

And Russia has warned Kiev of serious consequences if it pushes ahead.

Last month Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Ukraine would be in breach of a 1997 friendship treaty if it joined NATO.

Moscow is deeply opposed to its neighbours joining the alliance, and its relations with both Ukraine and Georgia have deteriorated sharply as they have made their membership ambitions clear.

At the weekend Russia said it could limit defence industry co-operation with Ukraine or increase visa restrictions.

Close to Russia

The NATO delegates will meet Ukraine's president and defence and foreign ministers - who will be keen to explain their readiness to join, says the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Ukraine.

They hope to be invited onto the alliance's Membership Action Plan, which officially kicks off the membership process.

But the NATO party will also hold public meetings in a number of cities across the country - where it is likely to be presented with a rather different picture, our correspondent says.

Opinion polls consistently suggest that more than half of Ukrainians have a deeply negative view of NATO.

In eastern parts of Ukraine Russian is the most commonly spoken language, and much of the population there feels close links with Moscow.

Source: BBC News