US backs Ukraine's NATO bid

The US has once again expressed strong support for Ukraine's membership in NATO. Washington is pushing the issue forward at a meeting of the alliance's defence ministers in Estonia. It appears though, there are sharp divisions in the organisation, with Fr

Talks in Tallinn are focusing on Ukraine’s ability to provide security and contribute to NATO-led operations. A decision on whether to grant Kiev a Map (membership action plan) is due to be made in December in Brussels. NATO officials have said Ukraine will join the alliance eventually and it is only a matter of when.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is taking part in the consultations within the framework of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

“This trip is about showing our support for Ukraine and other former Soviet states and satellites who wish to integrate further with the West,” Geoff Morrell said, Pentagon press secretary.

According to a statement published by the Department of Defense, “Senior defense officials speaking on background said the secretary probably would not have attended the meeting had the Russians not invaded Georgia”.

“But in the aftermath of that, the secretary wanted to send a very strong signal of his support for Ukraine and the Baltic States and our other NATO allies in Eastern Europe that the United States stands firmly behind them,” officials said, according to the release.

It also said that the consultations will undoubtedly cover Russia's actions in Georgia and Russia's opposition to Ukrainian membership in NATO. There will also be an opportunity for the allies to discuss Ukraine's defence developments.

The 'Our Ukraine' party, headed by president Yushchenko, has long supported joining NATO. However, the country would have to vastly improve its military infrastructure before it would be accepted. It is also facing a tough battle to win over the Ukrainian public. Polls consistently show less than a quarter of the population supports joining.

The US has met with some resistance from long-time NATO members like Germany and Italy. These countries fear that tensions remain too high between Russia and the west and that Ukrainian membership of NATO would makes things much worse.

Russia opposes Ukraine joining NATO and fears that it could harm its influence in the region.

A US senior official, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “This is not encirclement of Russia. This is not a NATO strategy going against Russian interests.”

While no formal offer will be made to Ukraine at the meeting, members will discuss the need for transparency in Ukraine and for the government to come through on both military and democratic reforms.

“Drawing new lines could be dangerous”

Georgia is also seeking membership in the North-Atlantic Alliance. But the president of neighbouring Armenia has warned drawing new dividing lines in the region could be very dangerous.

He believes Georgia's NATO ambitions contributed to the recent conflict in the Caucasus. Serzh Sargsyan said that his country is not planning to join. However, Armenia says working with NATO is vital to its national security.  

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