NATO gives hope to Georgia and Ukraine

Talks that could eventually lead to the admission of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO have been postponed until December. However, intensive dialogue with the former Soviet states is to go ahead. The decision was made at NATO’s annual summit in the Romanian ca

The issue has divided NATO, with the U.S. pushing for immediate acceptance, while a number of European countries say it's too early. Russia strongly opposes the move.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the summit that Ukraine and Georgia will be part of NATO in the future.

“NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agree today that these countries will become members of NATO. Today we made clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP (NATO’s membership action plan). Therefore we will now begin a period of intensive engagements with both at a high political level. We have asked foreign ministers to make a first assessment of progress at their December 2008 meeting,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.

Yushchenko hails Ukraine's 'victory'

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko has hailed the decision as the country’s “victory”.

“I'm not going to conceal the fact that the discussion was pretty tough. And it didn't come at an easy price for us. Therefore we have all the reasons to thank our partners who showed their devotion to Ukrainian interests,” he said.

He added that Ukraine has long been co-operating with the alliance.

“Despite the fact that we are not a member, we've been participating in all the NATO peacekeeping operations. We want to show that we are partners, that we share NATO's democratic principles,” Yushchenko said.

Georgia is 'everyone's friend'

Georgia is describing NATO’s announcement that it will one day welcome it as a member as a defining moment in the country’s history.

“This document represents a historic breakthrough in relations between Georgia and the alliance,” Georgia’s Foreign Minister David Bakradze said.

The country’s President Mikhail Saakashvili underlined that it’s important to maintain good relations with all parties taking part in negotiations.

“We have no more important priority than Russia. No partner is closer than Russia. There are no two ways about that: Georgia cannot do without Russia. We cannot address our problems without Russia,” the leader said.

He went on to say that bilateral relations between the two states have been improving lately and this will continue.

“If they perceive us only as a satellite to NATO and punish us for that, this is not right, because we're no satellite to anybody. We're friends to Russia,” he continued.

However, both countries should wait till December when NATO Foreign Ministers Council will continue their membership access plans talks.

Macedonia’s attempt to join the alliance was blocked by Greece because of a naming dispute – one of Greece’s northern regions is also called Macedonia. NATO postponed the invitation until the dispute is resolved.

In response, Macedonia's foreign minister said his delegation would leave the conference.

Two other countries in south-eastern Europe, Croatia and Albania, have been invited to join the alliance.

Among other issues discussed by NATO leaders was the controversial U.S. plan to deploy its anti-missile defence system in Europe.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said it hasn’t been decided yet exactly where elements of the proposed shield will be based.

Meanwhile, Washington and the Czech Republic have clinched an agreement on the deployment of components of the system in the central European country. The deal is expected to be signed in the near future.

The American anti-missile defence shield is also expected to be the focus of the Russia-NATO Council session due to take place on Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has has arrived in Bucharest on Thursday to join the discussions.

Putin pledges support for Georgia rebel regions

In order to join NATO, a country has to satisfy at least two major criteria, namely- territorial integrity and consensus among political leaders.

In Ukraine, support for joining the alliance is patchy among the country’s political elite and public support is even lower. Around 60 per cent of the population is against joining NATO, according to polls.

Georgia voted to join the alliance in January, but Tbilisi didn’t take into account the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which weren’t even given the opportunity to vote.

Abkhazia's President Sergey Bagapsh and South Ossetia's President Eduard Kokoity have expressed concerns over the possible negative impact that Georgia's accession to NATO might have on the regions.

On Thursday, Vladimir Putin sent letters to the leaders reassuring them that Russia will keep on supporting the unrecognised republics, and not only in words.

“Russia does notice Georgia's policy, which includes using threats and force, and is aimed at destabilising the situation,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry quotes Putin as saying.

“All attempts to bring political, economic and especially military pressure on Abkhazia and South Ossetia have no prospects,” it quotes.

“That's why we back up our support of Abkhazia and South Ossetia not just with words but with actions,” said Putin.