KIEV, Jan. 16 – Ukraine is now entering the “moment of truth” in its relations with NATO after formally requesting permission to join the Membership Action Plan in April, a senior official said Wednesday.
The implementation of the plan may help Ukraine join NATO within the next two years, but it may also shift strategic balances in Europe as Russia believes its own security may be under threat.
President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk signed the formal request on Tuesday in a letter submitted to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Oleksandr Chaliy, the deputy chief of staff at the Yushchenko office, said the initial reaction from Western governments was “positive,” strengthening the hope that Ukraine may join the MAP in April.
“Intensive diplomatic consultations are currently underway,” Chaliy said at a press conference. “In general, Ukraine receives positive reactions through these diplomatic channels.”
The consultations are handled by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, ahead of the NATO-Ukraine summit in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, due to take place in April.
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.
“Our point is that as of today we have practically exhausted opportunities for intensive dialog,” Chaliy said. “And we raise the question of joining the MAP at the NATO summit in Bucharest.”
In the letter to the NATO secretary general, the Ukrainian leaders pledged to hold a referendum before the country joins NATO, a move that is not required by the constitution, but is aimed at securing public support for the accession.
This might be the trickiest task for the government as the majority of the people in Ukraine at the moment do not support the accession to NATO amid little information available about the alliance.
The support for the accession is ranging between 20% and 25%, and is much higher in western regions, while the level of support declines significantly in eastern regions dominated by Russian language speakers.
The government of Tymoshenko pledged to spend more money this year to increase awareness about NATO in a bid to increase the ranks of those supporting the accession. (tl/ez)