KIEV, Jan. 15 – Ukraine on Tuesday sought to dramatically accelerate its accession to NATO by formally asking the alliance for permission to join the Membership Action Plan, the last program preceding accession, in April.
President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk signed the formal request in a letter submitted to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
“We hope the progress achieved by Ukraine within the Intensive Dialog for the Membership will soon be recognized by the alliance,” the letter, posted on the president’s website, said. “Now, Ukraine is interested in joining the Membership Action Plan.”
NATO and Ukraine are due to hold a summit in April in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, and this is where Kiev hopes to join the MAP. Although there are no deadlines, a country usually joins NATO between one and two years after joining the MAP.
“We count on the fact that the level of our country’s readiness for the new commitments will become the ground for a positive response during the next summit in April,” the letter said.
Ukraine’s joining of NATO is vehemently opposed by Russia, which views former Soviet countries as area of its own national interests. But NATO has successfully expanding to the East and already includes three former Soviet republics: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Russia has repeatedly threatened to launch economic sanctions against Ukraine, including severing military and defense cooperation, in the event that Ukraine joins NATO.
Ukraine’s stated readiness to join the MAP within the next three months underscores a major breakthrough on the way of the country’s accession to the alliance.
The same request was expected to be submitted by Ukraine in September 2006, but heavy opposition to the plan from then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian figure, had put the issue on hold.
A foreign policy clash between Yushchenko and Yanukovych grew into a serious constitutional crisis in May 2007, forcing the president to dismiss Parliament. Pro-Western parties jointly outperformed their pro-Russian rivals at the snap election in September 2007, eventually leading to a change of the government.
Admission to NATO requires countries to meet such criteria as having a stable, democratic political system, a working market economy, democratic control of their armed forces and neighborly relations.
“Completely sharing European democratic values the country sees itself as a part of the Euro-Atlantic security space and is ready together with NATO and its partners to counteract joint security threats,” the letter said.
Ukraine has been actively cooperating with NATO since its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, but the country has been making slow progress in actually joining the alliance due to domestic politics and heavy opposition from Russia. (tl/ez)