KIEV, March 25 – In an apparent attempt to calm Russia’s fears over the pace of Ukraine’s accession to NATO, President Viktor Yushchenko said Tuesday the full accession may take “years.”
“The choice [of joining NATO] will be there in years,” Yushchenko said Tuesday.
Yushchenko, since becoming president in January 2005, has been pushing hard for Ukraine’s accession to NATO as soon as possible, with some officials originally setting the year 2008 for the accession.
But these plans were undermined in September 2006 by the pro-Russian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who had decided to postpone the accession indefinitely.
It took dismissing Parliament and holding a snap election in September 2007 that eventually led to the creation of a more pro-Western government led by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to allow Kiev to resume the push for the accession.
Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and Parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk sent a letter in January requesting NATO to allow Ukraine join the Membership Action Plan, the last program preceding the accession, at a summit in April.
But NATO nations split over whether to let Ukraine join the MAP in April, with some countries, such as Germany, issuing reservations that Ukraine and Georgia were not yet ready for the MAP.
The split comes amid strong opposition from Moscow, which sees Kiev’s accession to NATO as a military threat.
Yushchenko on Tuesday dismissed these fears, saying Ukraine will not pose any threat to any neighboring country.
Although there are no deadlines, a country would usually join NATO within two years after joining MAP, but sometimes the process has been taking more than a decade.
Ukraine will be seeking assistance from the U.S., a strong supporter of Kiev’s accession to NATO, during an upcoming visit by U.S. President George W. Bush, due on March 31, according to Yushchenko.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week warned that putting Ukraine and Georgia on a track to NATO membership will badly hurt US-Russian relations.
Nine ex-Communist NATO members, plus Canada, last week urged the rest of the Atlantic alliance to overcome splits and open the door to Ukraine and Georgia at its April summit.
The letter argued that giving Ukraine and Georgia a MAP would increase stability and security in Europe, and stressed that a failure to act at the Bucharest summit would dent NATO's "open door" policy.
In the face of Russian opposition, the issue of ties between the 26-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Ukraine and Georgia is expected to be one of the highest-profile subjects on the table at the summit. (tl/ez)