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U.S. House of Reps. approves NATO entry for Georgia and Ukraine

RIA Novosti

07/03/2007 10:42 WASHINGTON, March 7 (RIA Novosti) - A U.S. House of Representatives majority approved a bill Tuesday providing support and funding for Ukraine and Georgia's membership to NATO.

The bill, which was also approved by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, also supports future NATO membership for Albania, Croatia and Macedonia allocating 2008 budget funding to prepare the countries for NATO accession.

Both Georgia and Ukraine have declared their plans to seek NATO membership. As well as being uneasy about the opening of NATO bases on the territory of Russia's former Soviet allies in the Baltic Region and Central Asia, Moscow strongly opposes efforts by Georgia and Ukraine to join the Western military alliance, saying the prospect threatens the security of the Russian Federation.

The bill has yet to be approved by a full Senate and will then be sent to the U.S. president for signing.

The pro-Western leaders from the two former-Soviet republics have been pushing to join NATO since they came to power and officially met last week in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, to discuss progress.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who swept to power on the back of the "rose" revolution in 2003, was confident of success saying that relations between Georgia and NATO may soon reach a new level when the alliance completes an evaluation of military reforms in his country.

His Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, said in turn that Ukraine's drive to join NATO is in line with the country's national interests and that it was free to choose any collective security system it preferred.

Western leaning Yushchenko, who swept into power on the back of the 2004 "orange" revolution, is determined to take Ukraine into NATO and the European Union, but his efforts to forge closer ties with the West have been staunchly opposed by pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych, appointed prime minister last August, has been cautious about rapprochement with NATO saying that Ukraine was still not ready for this move, and the idea is also unpopular in the country's mainly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions.

Opinion surveys indicate that more than 50% of Ukrainian nationals are against joining the former Soviet Union's Cold War enemy.

Mass anti-NATO protests rocked Ukraine's Crimean autonomous region in late May-early June, 2006 after a U.S. cargo ship delivered military equipment to a local port ahead of a NATO exercise. The cargo was removed following the protests.

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