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NATO eastward expansion, Ukraine no threat to Russia - official

RIA Novosti

30/03/2007 13:10 KIEV, March 30 (RIA Novosti) - NATO enlargement does not pose a threat to Russia, a senior North Atlantic alliance official said Friday.

Michel Duray, director of the NATO Information and Documentation Center director, said in an interview with RIA Novosti the alliance's expansion is designed to strengthen stability in the region by making new NATO members more democratic, prosperous and attractive for business.

Asked how Ukraine's possible admission to NATO could affect Ukrainian-Russian relations, Duray said he could not comment on bilateral relations of two independent states, but it is obvious that Europe is no longer divided and must not be divided again.

He said the alliance is in intensive dialogue with Ukraine, which is implementing an essential reform program, but it is too soon to talk about Ukraine's NATO membership, which is a very lengthy process in any event.

He said in the final analysis, it is up to the Ukrainians themselves to decide on whether or not to join the alliance, while NATO follows an "open door policy" and is always ready to share experience with others.

Duray said Ukraine is not as yet ready to join the NATO Membership Action Plan, although the alliance is satisfied with the level of NATO-Ukraine cooperation, especially in peacekeeping operations, describing Ukraine as a "security donor."

At the same he said there are some "political nuances" and that it is difficult to opt for integration without a political consensus.

The Ukrainian president and the prime minister sent a letter to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer Thursday inviting him to visit Ukraine in July this year.

In the letter, President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych invited Scheffer to attend July 8-10 celebrations in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Charter on partnership between Ukraine and NATO.

The U.S. House of Representatives gave final backing to NATO's further eastward enlargement, including bids from ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine on Monday, promising a total of $12 million in aid to the two countries and former Communist-bloc members Albania, Croatia and Macedonia in 2008. The bill has yet to be signed by the president.

Moscow strongly opposes efforts by Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance, saying the prospect threatens its security and prompts a new arms race.

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