NATO, Ukraine hail joint future, try to reassure Russia
(dpa) - Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko sought to reassure Russia on Friday that his country's newly strengthened ties with NATO were not meant to threaten Russian interests.
"Our state has the full right to choose its own way" in security matters, but "our Euro-Atlantic interests are not targeted against any third country," Yushchenko said at the opening of a meeting with NATO's heads of state and government in Bucharest.
NATO leaders announced on Thursday, on the second day of their summit in Bucharest, that Ukraine and Georgia "will become" NATO members, although they gave no timetable for the move and decided not to offer the former Soviet states Membership Action Plans (MAP).
Moscow has long opposed the aspirations of its two former vassals, saying that NATO enlargement in the region would be a direct strategic threat and accusing the alliance of wanting to set up military bases right on its borders.
"Ukraine has no plans to locate the military bases of any country in the world on its terrain," Yushchenko said.
NATO leaders also decided that the alliance's foreign ministers would make a first assessment of the duo's progress in December.
NATO "values its relationship, values its cooperation with Ukraine and wants to go further," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said, calling the permanent NATO-Ukraine Commission an "essential forum for frank and open dialogue."
"I'm sure that in the framework of (the December) meeting, Ukraine will be invited to a MAP," Yushchenko said.
That certainty is not shared by all NATO allies, however. Some point out that public support within Ukraine for NATO membership hovers around 20-25 per cent, and that it would have to rise considerably before the grant of a MAP would be appropriate.
They are also concerned that such a move would antagonize Russia at a time when relations are already strained.
NATO leaders are due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin directly after their meeting with Yushchenko.