KIEV, June 12 ‚Äď Ukraine should speed up its accession to NATO to improve its national security in reaction to a growing confrontation between Russia and the West, President Viktor Yushchenko said.
The comment comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would target its nuclear missiles at Europe if Poland and the Czech Republic accept the US anti-missile defense system on their soil.
‚ÄúI believe the Russian President is not joking,‚ÄĚ Yushchenko said in a interview with The Globe and Mail posted on Yushchenko‚Äôs Website on Tuesday. ‚ÄúThe current militancy of Ukraine‚Äôs biggest neighbor demonstrates that my country needs faster to cover itself up with NATO‚Äôs defense umbrella.‚ÄĚ
The interview with the Canadian newspaper came only a day after Yushchenko met Putin in St. Petersburg at a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Yushchenko, a pro-Western politician who has risen to power following the Orange Revolution by defeating his pro-Russian rival Viktor Yanukovych in December 2004, has been long seeking to accelerate the country‚Äôs accession to NATO.
Yushchenko pushed hard for joining NATO as soon as 2008, but the plan appeared to be derailed after Yanukovych emerged as the prime minister following the March 2006 general election.
Yanukovych, backed by his two smaller pro-Russian allies, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, vowed in August 2006 to postpone Ukraine‚Äôs accession to NATO indefinitely.
Yanukovych seeks to postpone Ukraine‚Äôs pro-NATO course, apparently prompted by Russia‚Äôs warning last year that it would have to sever economic ties and quadruple prices of natural gas it supplies to Ukraine.
Russia already sent shockwaves throughout Europe in January 2006 by cutting off supplies of natural gas to Ukraine in the middle of the winter due to a price dispute.
The supply cut-off, which also affected European Union that receives Russian gas via the Ukrainian gas pipelines, demonstrated Russia‚Äôs willingness to use its gas monopoly for putting pressure on other nations, analysts said.
Key financial sponsors of Yanukovych‚Äôs Regions Party, such as Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest Ukrainian, own many steel companies and other industrial assets that would simply become unprofitable following the sharp price hike. This probably explains why Yanukovych has been seeking to postpone the NATO membership, analysts said.
But Yushchenko argued that failure to join NATO means that Ukraine‚Äôs national security would be in jeopardy that may lead to a ‚Äúvery painful‚ÄĚ situation.
‚ÄúThe latest events, I believe, show that we have a very fragile security balance,‚ÄĚ Yushchenko said. ‚ÄúThis situation is a cause for concern and may be very painful.‚ÄĚ
Yushchenko also sought to assure Moscow that Ukraine‚Äôs accession to NATO would not hurt interests of Russia, but would simple enhance Ukraine‚Äôs own national security.
‚ÄúThis is not a policy against somebody,‚ÄĚ Yushchenko said. ‚ÄúThis is the policy that in the best way meets the national security and defense.‚ÄĚ (tl/ez)