(dpa) - NATO will attempt to improve its currently poor image in the former Soviet republic Ukraine with information centres and an advertising campaign costing millions of dollars, a Ukrainian official said Wednesday.
More than three million dollars, contributed by the Ukrainian government and Western "donors", will go towards the project, said Serhy Shevchiuk, an MP and member of parliament's European Integration committee.
The money will fund the construction and operation of NATO information centres in seven major Ukrainian cities, which would work towards showing local media a "true picture" of the Atlantic Alliance, and reducing "NATO-phobia," Shevchiuk said.
Shevchiuk's announcement, made during a speech to parliament, came one day after German premier Angela Merkel said she was not optimistic about Ukraine joining any time soon, because of widespread opposition towards the alliance by the Ukrainian population.
Ukraine's government currently is controlled by a pro-Western coalition promising to make Ukraine a NATO member as soon as possible.
An attempt by the government to introduce legislation in parliament allowing Ukraine to increase its cooperation with the alliance has stalled Ukraine's legislature for more than a month, because of strident objections by anti-NATO MPs.
The planned programme to improve NATO's image will target Ukrainian youth, and be pitched to convince them the alliance "no longer is a military block from the Cold War ... but a structure that can benefit Ukraine in an age of globalisation," Shevchiuk argued.
NATO due to its long opposition to the Kremlin began the 1990s as a highly-respected organization in Ukraine, but its reputation deteriorated after NATO air strikes against Serbia in the late 1990s, and its past and present operations in Afghanistan after the turn of the century.
A central battleground of World War II, Ukraine is one of Europe's most pacifist countries. Its citizens oppose membership in NATO by a two to one margin, according to most polls.
Many Ukrainians objected to NATO air strikes against Serbia because of ethnic and religious ties between Ukraine and Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia.
NATO operations in Afghanistan are often criticised in Ukraine as futile, frequently by veterans of the Soviet Union's campaign in Afghanistan, from 1979 to 1988.