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1 Apr, 2008 19:45

Bush supports Ukraine's NATO bid

President George W. Bush has pledged U.S. support for Ukraine's bid to join NATO during his first-ever visit to the country. The question of new members is due to be discussed at the NATO summit in Romania's capital Bucharest on Wednesday.

Before visiting Ukraine George Bush even learned how to say ‘hello’ in Ukrainian in order address the country's troops – but his greeting didn't go down too well with many Ukrainians.

Thousands of people gathered in front of the American embassy in Kiev to express their opposition to the NATO plans.

Over the past few years, the United States has poured millions of dollars into Ukraine for various pro-democracy programmes.

As protesters were marching through the city centre, Laurence Ball, an engineer from Alabama, was looking on. He says rallies like this show that U.S. policies in the country are succeeding.

“This is what democracy is all about. You may not like what they are saying, but they have the right to say it,” said Ball.

The U.S. President also talked at length about democracy. While praising the Orange Revolution, he wasn't inspired by the latest rallies.

“Just because there were a bunch of people with Soviet flags, we shouldn't read too much into it,” said Bush.

His Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko also took issue with the flags.

“It’s not surprising that several hundred people with red banners gathered on Independence Square. It's symbolic, actually. You know that the events of Holodomor happened under similar red flags. People who raised them were in charge of repressions in Ukraine and killed millions of Ukrainians,” said Yushchenko.

Holodomor, or the Ukrainian famine of the early 1930s, is a favourite topic of Ukrainian leaders. They say it was an act of genocide committed by the Soviet regime and that Russia has to pay compensation to the victims’ families. Moscow insists that the famine was indiscriminate and killed not only Ukrainians, but also Russians and Belorussians alike.

'Holodomor is an American term used by James Meyes, an American historian, to refer to the alleged ethnic genocide of Ukrainians. What should also be said here is that there is no proof of ethnic selectiveness during Holodomor. About seven to eight million died back then. Three and a half million of them lived in the territory of Ukraine, but there were also Jews, Poles, Russians and Georgians among them," said Russian TV anchor Dmitry Kiselev.

According to the Ukrainian President, there is a direct link between the famine of the 1930s and NATO.

“If you look at the history of the Ukrainian state with the many tragedies that happened, it’s easy to conclude that only a system of collective responsibility and security can provide international guarantees for Ukrainian sovereignty, and is the best response to the challenges that currently exist in society and in international affairs,” said Viktor Yushchenko.

But so far these arguments haven't convinced the Ukrainian people.

According to polls, around 60 per cent of the population are against joining NATO.