Ukraine says ‘no’ to foreign bases

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko says his country has no plans to allow foreign military bases on its territory. The statement came during a joint media conference with the NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Schef

Viktor Yushchenko said foreign forces won’t be permitted on Ukrainian soil, as “this is an objective of our constitution”.

“I would also like to dismantle the myth that if Ukraine joins the membership action plan, it will make Ukrainian military forces obliged to participate in all NATO's operations. This is total nonsense,” he said.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer echoed Yushchenko’s claims:

“Ukraine is going to participate in the NATO Response Force. But it does that, of course, on the basis of its fully free will,” he said.

He said NATO will never force any single Ukrainian soldier to participate anywhere, since that is a sovereign decision for Ukraine.  

Meanwhile, several hundred anti-NATO protesters have taken to streets. In the morning, they gathered outside the building of the presidential secretariat, protesting against the arrival of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and against joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. They were carrying flags and chanting anti-NATO slogans.

The protesters say they will follow the alliance’s chief wherever he goes during his visit to Kiev. They’ve vowed that they will keep protesting until a public referendum on Ukraine’s membership of NATO is held, which they believe will reflect the nation’s decision.

The pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defence party has launched an information campaign to change the minds of those Ukrainians who are against joining NATO. In order to push NATO membership to the population, they’ve gone for the hard sell, including TV advertising.

“Our strategic goal is to join NATO, but today, most Ukrainians aren’t even sure what NATO is. So that is what we are focusing on – educating the public about the alliance, and what the benefits of Ukraine’s membership would be,” said Irina Gerashchenko from Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defence party.

However, the country’s main political forces are once again taking opposite sides, as the opposition Party of Regions says it will do everything possible to prevent Ukraine from heading west strategically.

“Our party’s position has been, is and will remain the same, we want to be outside the bloc. According to recent polls, over 70 per cent of the Ukrainian population don’t want their country to join NATO. We will do all in our power to support the people’s choice,” said Mikhail Chechetov from the Party of Regions.

Russia has frequently opposed NATO’s eastward expansion, considering it a direct threat to its national security.

If Ukraine joins NATO, a lot may change. This warning bell was sounded by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sergey Ivanov.

“If Ukraine joins NATO, then a visa regime between Russia and Ukraine will inevitably, or almost inevitably, be introduced sooner or later. This will happen not because of some crafty designs of ”malicious Russians“, but because NATO will force Ukraine to do it,” he said.

According to the latest polls, public support for NATO accession in Ukraine is dropping.

They show that support for NATO membership has fallen by 10 per cent in the last four months.