KIEV, April 6 – President Viktor Yushchenko said Sunday that NATO’s pledged commitment to one day accept Ukraine and Georgia as members of the alliance was “unexpected” good news, calling it an “historical” decision.
Yushchenko’s comment comes days after Ukraine failed to win a membership action plan (MAP), a program that immediately precedes accession to NATO, at last week’s NATO summit in Bucharest.
But Yushchenko, who joined the summit, argued that NATO’s pledge - for the first time ever - to accept Ukraine as a member outweighed the negative news of the MAP delay.
“What’s the most important for us from the point of view of the dialog and goals? It’s not the MAP, it’s the membership in NATO. This is our goal,” Yushchenko said in an interview with Inter television aired Sunday.
The comment comes as a reaction to calls among some pro-Russian opposition leaders in Ukraine portraying the NATO summit as a personal fiasco for Yushchenko, a pro-Western leader.
“I have no doubt that Ukraine will be part of NATO,” Yushchenko said. “For me, as for Ukrainians, this is not matter of choice. This is a matter of time.”
Russia, citing its own security concerns, has been vehemently opposing NATO’s expansion to include Ukraine and Georgia as the members of the alliance.
Analysts said it was mostly German and French fears over Russia’s reaction that forced NATO to postpone the decision on Ukraine and Georgia for nine months.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance will review Ukraine and Georgia's applications again in December.
U.S. President George W. Bush, the biggest advocate for Ukraine’s and Georgia’s NATO membership, said the two countries may win the MAP even before he leaves office in January 2009.
At the summit in Bucharest, NATO overwhelmingly endorsed plans for the U.S.-led missile defense shield for Europe, plans that had also been vehemently opposed by Russia for security concerns.
This shows the alliance remains effectively capable of approving decisions challenging Russia’s concerns, suggesting that Ukraine and Georgia may still win the MAP in December, analysts said.
NATO’s decision to postpone Ukraine’s and Georgia’s bids to win the MAP has been originally reported as major negative news for Kiev and Tbilisi.
Comments from people familiar with the situation have been suggesting that Yushchenko had even been considering leaving the NATO-Ukraine summit early in protest.
But the written pledge from NATO’s 26 members stipulating that Ukraine and Georgia will one day become NATO members comes as a major relief – and surprise - for Kiev.
“Of course, this was unexpected,” Yushchenko said. “This emerged only in the second part of the discussion.”
More surprises followed the summit after Yushchenko on Friday fired Ukrainian ambassadors to Germany and Russia, the two countries that had led the opposition to Ukraine joining the MAP.
“We want to find new forms of cooperation with Germany,” Oleksandr Chaliy, Yushchenko’s top foreign policy aide, told Inter on Sunday. (tl/ez)