Ukraine Secretly Ramps Up Ties With NATO: Report

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine is ramping up cooperation with NATO, dealing a blow to Moscow's hopes that its neighbour would align itself closer to Russia under President Viktor Yanukovych, a report said last Tuesday.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych

The Kommersant Ukraine daily, citing a secret document on Ukraine's programme with NATO for 2011, said Yanukovych sought closer ties with the bloc even more earnestly than his openly pro-Western predecessor Viktor Yushchenko.

The dramatic turnabout in Kiev's foreign policy comes despite Ukraine last year cementing in law its non-aligned status and amid disappointment over terms and conditions of rapprochement with the Kremlin, it said.

The confidential document approved earlier this year includes a schedule of 64 bilateral events, said the newspaper, adding that the two sides were set to discuss such sensitive issues as Ukraine's energy security, missile defence, and the future of Russia's Black Sea fleet based in Crimea.

Two meetings scheduled for June are set to address basic principles and strategy of Ukraine's foreign policy.

Asked about the report while on a visit to Strasbourg, Yanukovych said that Ukraine remained a neutral country.

"Our position remains unchanged: we have been and remain a non-aligned country, just as is dictated by our law," Yanukovych said in comments released by his office.

He added that Ukraine "has not and does not plan" to take any part in the new NATO missile defence shield for Europe, which Russia fears is aimed at its own defences.

Yanukovych has worked hard to improve relations between Moscow and Kiev since defeating the leaders of the pro-Western Orange Revolution in presidential elections last year.

Soon afterward he signed a landmark deal with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to keep Russia's Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea at least until 2042 in exchange for a 30 percent discount on Russian gas exports to its neighbour.

But over the past months Kiev has grown disillusioned with the prospects of closer ties with Moscow which it says has tried to strong-arm Ukraine into joining the Russian-led customs union and threatened it with sanctions, the newspaper said.

"Moscow wants us to be in its orbit and pay for that too," a high-ranking source in the Ukrainian government told Kommersant. "It's not us who are pulling away from Russia. It is pushing us away."

Earlier this month Russia protested the arrival of a US Navy cruiser equipped with a ballistic missile defence system in the Black Sea to take part in naval exercises with Ukraine, saying it was a threat to its national security.

Ukraine's foreign ministry shot back saying the exercises did not present any "real or potential threat" for the countries of the Black Sea region.

Source: AFP