President Yushchenko Seeks Warmer Links With Moscow As NATO Hopes Cool

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is moving to soothe relations with Russia as NATO loses interest in offering rapid membership of the alliance.

Viktor Yushchenko at NATO

The reappraisal comes amid debate in Kiev about the wisdom of antagonising the Kremlin, particularly after the confrontation between Russia and Georgia in the summer.

President Yushchenko of Ukraine has ordered a policy review in an effort to defuse tensions with Russia over his country’s pro-Western leanings.

The shift is an acknowledgement that friction between Kiev and Moscow has made it harder for the European Union and NATO, particularly members such as Germany and France, to embrace Ukraine.

“The majority of Ukrainians understand that strain and antagonism on our eastern border hinder the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of our country,” Oleg Voloshin, a spokesman at the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, said. “Now Kiev is disposed to intensify its dialogue with Russia to relieve her concerns over some priorities of Ukraine’s foreign policy.”

It is a remarkable change of tone for Mr Yushchenko, who has raised fears about Russian aggression in Crimea. He had also accused Yuliya Tymoshenko, his rival and Orange Revolution ally, of “high treason” for failing to condemn the Russian intervention in South Ossetia and Georgia in August.

Mrs Tymoshenko, the Prime Minister, is widely perceived to have softened her criticism of Moscow to reduce Kremlin opposition to her run for the presidency next year.

“Tymoshenko is a welcome guest in Moscow, unlike Yushchenko. He is not rejecting his previous pro-Western policy,” one official told The Times. “It is in our interests to show that being pro-Western is not the same as being anti-Russian.”

The new approach has emerged as NATO foreign ministers gather in Brussels today for a two-day meeting.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, backed Washington’s commitment to full membership for Ukraine and Georgia but confirmed that there remained “tactical differences” within the alliance over how this should be achieved. She made it clear that neither country was going to be invited this week into the membership action plan to begin the process.

Dr Rice added that the US would back the resumption of NATO links with Moscow four months after Russia invaded Georgia.

In an interview with The Times last month Mr Yushchenko appealed to NATO not to delay the offer of a membership plan.

The war in Georgia and the collapse of the Orange Coalition in Ukraine, however, has left many member states unwilling to risk a reaction from the Kremlin.

President Saakashvili of Georgia insisted that the former Soviet republics still enjoyed strong support in NATO and said that he hoped progress could be made.

Source: Times Online

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