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Bush signs law on Ukrainian, Georgian accession to NATO

RIA Novosti

10/04/2007 19:16 WASHINGTON, April 10 (RIA Novosti) - U.S. President George Bush has signed into law legislation supporting a Ukrainian and Georgian bid to join NATO, the White House press service said Tuesday.

"The President signed into law the NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007, which reaffirms support for continued enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), designates Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Macedonia, and Ukraine as eligible to receive assistance under the NATO Participation Act of 1994, and authorizes fiscal year 2008 appropriations for certain military assistance for these countries," the press service said in a statement on its Web site.

The NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007, already approved by the Senate March 15 and the House of Representatives March 26, envisions $12 million in aid to Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia and Ukraine in 2008, which "have clearly stated their desire to join NATO and are working hard to meet the specified requirements for membership."

A total of $30 million will be allocated from the U.S. budget to the countries between 2008 and 2012 under the same program.

Georgia has pushed to join the Cold War-era organization since Western-educated President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power on the back of mass protests in 2003, hoping that membership will help it regain control of breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Tbilisi believes are backed by Russia.

Russia helped to end the bloody conflicts in the region in the early 1990s and has maintained troops there ever since.

In mid-March, despite bitter differences on domestic issues, Georgia's parliament voted unanimously to carry on with the NATO bid.

"NATO is a priority for all Georgian people," Nino Burdzhanadze, the speaker, said. "Hope of restoring territorial integrity and protecting the country's sovereignty are pinned on this organization. The organization is the only guarantor of stability and peace in the region."

Ukraine has been divided on the proposed NATO membership, reflecting major policy differences between the Western-leaning president and the more pro-Russian prime minister, who says the country is not ready for the move.

The idea is unpopular with the largely Russian-speaking population in the east of the country. Mass anti-NATO protests rocked Ukraine's Crimean Autonomy 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.

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

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 alliance, saying the prospect threatens its security and will unleash a new arms race.



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