NATO split over offers to Ukraine, Georgia

(dpa) - NATO members were split Thursday over whether to establish closer ties with Ukraine and Georgia amid concerns that such a move could further strain relations with Russia.

Both countries are participating in the alliance's so-called Intensified Dialogue programme and are aspiring to become full members one day.

Diplomatic sources attending an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels said Britain was particularly eager to get Ukraine on board.

British Foreign Minister David Miliband hinted as much at the start of the meeting, saying the alliance should "stretch out" to Russia's neighbours.

But while the US was said to be forward-leaning but cautious, Germany expressed scepticism.

"I will not hide that I am sceptical, but we will discuss that calmly today," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn said that after the election of a new president, Europe should try to place its ties with Russia on "a new footing."

Speaking about Georgia and Ukraine's membership aspirations, Asselborn said, "We have to take the interests of others into account, not only of the members of NATO."

One of the biggest obstacles to Ukraine's membership bid is the low support for NATO among Ukrainians.

Georgia's problems related to its unresolved disputes with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as its recent crackdown on opposition protests.

Russia wants to boost its global influence and is not keen to see the transatlantic alliance spread further towards its borders.

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