MOSCOW, April 8 - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that Moscow will do all it can to prevent the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO.
Lavrov warned that the bids by Russia's two neighbors to join the Western alliance could worsen the Kremlin's relations with the countries supporting them.
"We will do all we can to prevent Ukraine's and Georgia's accession into NATO and to avoid an inevitable serious exacerbation of our relations with both the alliance and our neighbors," Lavrov said on Ekho Moskvy radio, according to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Ukraine seeks to engage in consultations with Russia in an attempt to ease Moscow’s fears over Kiev’s NATO membership, Mykhaylo Osnach, the head of the NATO department at the Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, said.
"As for relations with Russia, we believe that we need to deepen the dialogue and consultations with this country in order to remove Russia's concerns over the prospect of Ukraine membership in the alliance," Osnach told Interfax.
"We expressed our willingness to hear our Russian colleagues and what they are actually concerned about in view of Ukraine's prospects of NATO membership," Osnach said.
A NATO summit last week rejected starting Ukraine and Georgia on the path to membership despite strong support from the U.S.
Germany, France and some others feared such a move would strain ties with Moscow. NATO, however, has promised to incorporate both nations at some point.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western leader who attended the summit, on Sunday praised the outcome of the summit.
“I have no doubts that Ukraine will be part of NATO,” Yushchenko said. “For me, as for the Ukrainian, this is not matter of choice. This is a matter of time.”
Lavrov denounced the alliance's expansion plans as rooted in Cold War logic. "This is enlargement in the spirit of that very Cold War logic, the spirit of bloc confrontation, and the spirit of bloc absorption of territories," he said.
Lavrov pointed at divisions within Ukraine over NATO membership and emphasized that Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia denounced the move.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to broaden Russian support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia and warned Georgia and the West against the use of force or pressure to bring them back under control of the central government.
The Kremlin-controlled parliament last month urged the government to consider recognizing the independence claims of the two separatist provinces, which broke from Georgian control in early 1990s wars.
Putin, however, has stopped short of saying Russia would recognize their independence — a move that would severely damage ties with the West and could spark a war with Georgia. He gave no indication Russia would abandon its official acceptance of Georgia's territorial integrity. (ap/if/ez)