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1 Apr, 2008 14:17

Bush supports Ukraine’s NATO dream

On his first visit to Ukraine, George Bush has given his backing to the country’s ambitions to join NATO. The issue will be discussed at Wednesday’s NATO summit in Romania's capital Bucharest.

France has already said it won’t support the requests of Ukraine and Georgia to join the western alliance.

During his meeting with Ukraine’s President, Viktor Yushchenko, Bush said he was extremely proud of Ukrainian efforts made after the Orange Revolution in 2003-2004 and that Ukraine has qualified to become one of the members of military alliance.

Yushchenko said Washington was backing Ukraine to the hilt.

“We received fully fledged support from the United States in Ukraine's bid to join the membership action plan. In the course of the Bucharest summit I’m sure that we will receive a positive signal,” Yushchenko said.

The American President has also met with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko.

The U.S. and Ukraine have signed a 'Road Map' agreement for bilateral co-operation on energy, trade, investment, business, as well as in the social and humanitarian spheres.

However, Ukraine’s fate won’t be decided in Kiev. It cannot join NATO unless all 26 members support the application. President Bush underlined that he will continue to press for Ukraine to be accepted.

“Ukraine now seeks to deepen its co-operation with the NATO alliance to a membership action plan. Your nation has made a bold decision and the United States strongly supports your request. In Bucharest this week, I will continue to make America's position clear: we support MAP for Ukraine and Georgia,” Bush said.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will also take part in Wednesday’s summit in Bucharest.

Earlier he said that possible admission of Ukraine into the alliance would put Russia’s security at risk and that “one can’t theoretically exclude the possibility that Russia will have to point its warheads at Ukrainian territory”.

Bush, however, claims Russia doesn’t have to worry about Ukraine’s membership in NATO.

“I strongly believe that Ukraine and Georgia should be given MAP and there are no trade-offs -period. As a matter of fact I told President Putin about that in my phone call with him recently. I said I was going to Bucharest with the idea in mind of getting MAP for Ukraine and Georgia and you should not fear that, Mr President,” Bush said.

Russia considers ‘counter-measures’

Russia's lower house of parliament says it may urge the government to rethink relations with Ukraine if the NATO summit in Bucharest approves the membership action plan.

Russian State Duma Deputy Aleksey Ostrovsky said “We all remember statements from the U.S. and a number of Western European countries that after the collapse of Soviet Union there would be no NATO expansion to the western borders of Russia”.

Nonetheless, he said, it's “being done cynically”.

“We are concerned over the creeping NATO expansion towards our borders. And we would like to say that Russia has a set of counter-measures to take if Ukraine and Georgia join NATO,” Ostrovsky said.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin says if Ukraine joins NATO, it'll have an impact on Russia's national security strategy.

“Russia retains the right to ensure the long-term security of its territory. To be honest, if Ukraine does join NATO, it will prompt a serious crisis in our bilateral relations, which will also have negative implications for the European security. It’s now up to the West to make its strategic choice,” he said. 

Ukraine’s membership in NATO is important for the U.S., according to Professor Leonid Gusev of the Moscow State University of International Relations.

“It’s the biggest country in Europe” and from its territory it would be easy to control all of Eurasia, including Russia.

As for Ukraine’s benefits from joining the alliance, Gusev says that “part of Ukraine’s elite could certainly benefit because it could become part of the world elite”.

However, the analyst says, “most ordinary people, especially those living in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, will not benefit because there will be a tough visa regime with Russia”.

And, he explains, “most of them work in Russia”, but with new visa controls it wouldn’t be possible.

“Today the State Duma discussed the possibility of abandoning Moscow’s treaty with Ukraine,” Gusev said.

“According to this treaty, Russia resolved all its territorial problems with Ukraine. If Russia leaves this treaty these territorial problems will appear again,” the expert said.

Ukrainians say ‘No’ to NATO

Earier, thousands marched on the U.S. embassy in Kiev to protest against the drive to join. More rallies are promised if NATO accepts Ukraine's application at its summit in Bucharest on Wednesday.

Several dozen protesters remained in the street on Monday evening, but earlier, according to police estimates, there were around 10,000 people. Demonstrators started gathering from early morning. Some erected tents, intent on staying put throughout the night, and possibly longer.

Opinion polls conducted in Ukraine over the last 15 years show that more than half of its population is against joining the alliance.

Almost 62% of Ukrainians voted against NATO membership. Even an ‘information’ campaign has not helped the government