Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Ukraine must join NATO to ensure security - defense minister

RIA Novosti

13/10/2006 16:21 KIEV, October 13 (RIA Novosti) - Joining NATO is a key precondition for Ukraine's sovereignty and national security, the ex-Soviet country's defense minister said Friday.

Membership in the Western security alliance remains a hotly disputed issue among Ukraine's leadership, with the Western-leaning president pushing for accession, and the recently appointed pro-Russian government resisting the idea.

The Defense Ministry's press service said Anatoliy Hrystenko considers NATO accession "one of the main preconditions for the national security and sovereignty of the state," along with the "transparent, diversified, stable provision to Ukraine of energy resources, in particular natural gas."

Ukraine remains heavily reliant on gas supplies from and via neighboring Russia, and is currently in tense negotiations with Moscow over prices for 2007. The issue became a key bilateral sticking point this year, following a price row in January, during which Russian energy giant Gazprom briefly cut off deliveries to Ukraine.

Hrystenko, speaking at a conference in the country's capital devoted to the NATO issue, said that as things stand, there is no reliability in the country's gas supply.

"The agreements that have been reached do not meet Ukraine's interests," the minister said.

"If we can resolve these two issues, Ukraine will be a stable, independent state, both domestically and externally," he said.

The drive for NATO membership was one of the key policy issues agreed to by lawmakers in August, through the national unity pact proposed by President Viktor Yushchenko.

However, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who draws his support mainly from the Russian-speaking southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, said at a Ukraine-NATO commission meeting in Brussels in September that NATO accession remains deeply unpopular among the population, and that the country is yet not ready to push for membership.

The head of Our Ukraine's central executive committee, Igor Zhdanov, said Friday that the pro-presidential bloc intends to launch a large-scale 'information campaign' promoting NATO membership.

The bloc intends to convince Ukrainians that NATO membership is "first and foremost, a European standard-of-living issue, and not one of participation in military activities," Zhdanov's press service said.

"The foreign policy direction of the state became especially significant following Prime Minister Yanukovych's visit to Brussels, where he forgot about his signature on the national unity agreement."

"Our Ukraine will fulfill its promises to President Yushchenko, and will not allow the premier to realign the country's foreign policy direction," Zhdanov said.

Relations between the bloc and the Yanukovych's government, which came to power in August after months of political wrangling, continue to worsen amid disputes over the president's key pro-Western policy goals. The bloc vowed on October 5 to form a radical opposition, and called on its ministers to quit the Cabinet.