KIEV, Feb. 17 – President Viktor Yushchenko suggested Sunday Ukraine would not let foreign military bases on its soil even after joining NATO, a comment that is apparently aimed at easing Russia’s growing security concerns.
The comment comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to target nuclear missiles at Ukraine should Kiev allow NATO bases on its soil following its planned accession to the alliance.
“The Ukrainian constitution prohibits the country from allowing a military base for another country or for a military alliance,” Yushchenko said in an interview with Inter television aired Sunday.
He also said Ukraine would not allow nuclear weapons on its territory after Kiev had 10 years ago voluntarily gotten rid of its nuclear arsenal it had inherited from the former Soviet Union.
“Nuclear weapons will never be stationed on the territory of Ukraine,” Yushchenko said. “Neither our own [weapons] nor the weapons of other countries.”
The comments are the first reaction from the Ukrainian president to the controversial remarks made by Putin in Moscow on Thursday. Putin said Russia would aim missiles at Ukraine is Kiev allows NATO bases in its soil that Moscow considers a security threat.
Putin’s remark was apparently aimed at discouraging Ukraine from joining NATO. It came a month after Kiev had officially requested Brussels a permission to join the Membership Action Plan, a program that immediately precedes the accession to the alliance, in April.
Putin argued the request comes in contrast with position of the majority of Ukrainians.
Yushchenko, who had a three-hour meeting with Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, refused to directly comment on Russia’s threat.
“I really don’t like to comment on the words of Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin],” Yushchenko said.
Yushchenko called Putin “the man who I respect because he is the president of a great nation, our neighbor that we have to always live with in peace and in mutual understanding.”
“I am doing the best I can to build this mutual understanding without giving away even one percent of Ukrainian interest,” Yushchenko said.
Ukraine seeks to join the MAP in April, a plan that government officials believe may allow Ukraine to join NATO as soon as within the next two years.
But the plan is facing criticism from opposition Regions Party and the Communist Party, the two pro-Russian groups, that had been calling for a stronger cooperation with Moscow.
Ukraine’s Parliament was in a deadlock for more than a month as opposition lawmakers have been blocking access to the podium in protest of the accelerated NATO accession. (nr/ez)