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American Forces Press Service

Gates Arrives in Ukraine to Begin Five-Day European Trip

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

KIEV, Ukraine, Oct. 21, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here today to meet with Ukrainian leaders as their new government begins to take shape.

The five-day trip, which also will include stops in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Germany, represents a lot of “firsts” for the secretary. It’s his first visit to Ukraine as defense secretary, his first-ever visit to Prague, and the first visit by a defense secretary serving in the Bush administration to the Netherlands.

In Ukraine, Gates will meet with Ukrainian President Viktor A. Yushchenko to discuss post-election priorities as the new government forms. He also will meet with Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko to discuss defense reforms the United States is helping bring about.

“We are investing a lot of resources in Ukraine to help it reform its institutions,” a senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters. He called Ukraine’s military reforms “a great success story” and Hrytsenko a “fantastic, visionary guy” who has helped move the process forward.

Among topics expected to be discussed are Ukraine’s support in Iraq and Kosovo and its consideration of expanding its contributions into Afghanistan, as well. “The Ukrainian government has considered going into Afghanistan for some time,” the official said, noting that the country’s political upheaval put those discussions “on hold for awhile.”

With the likelihood pro-Western Yushchenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko will lead the new government, Ukraine will soon be in a better position to look beyond current operations to other missions, the official said.

“Now that there is the potential for a Tymoshenko-Yushchenko government, … (with) both parties pro-Western, pro-NATO (and) pro-(European Union), … there could be a restarting of some of the previous traction that the Yushchenko government had,” the official said.

Gates’ discussions here are likely to include the outcome of his and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent “two-plus-two” meeting with Russian leaders in Moscow. “I can’t imagine him sitting down with the Ukrainian leadership, that there won’t be a discussion about how the two-plus-two went and how both sides view relationships with Russia,” the official said.

The outcome of that meeting and Russian objections to U.S. plans to base missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic are expected to be raised throughout Gates’ swing through Europe, particularly when he meets with Czech leaders in Prague later this week, the official said.

Also today, Gates is scheduled to meet with Turkish National Defense Minister Mehmet Vecdi Gonul, followed by bilateral meetings with the defense ministers of three countries seeking NATO membership: Albania, Croatia and Macedonia.

A topic expected to figure largely in the meeting with Gonul -- a topic not anticipated when the meeting was scheduled two weeks ago -- is the Turkish parliament’s vote last week authorizing its troops to cross the border into Iraq to confront terrorists launching attacks into Turkey. The one-year authorization gives the green light for Turkey’s military to move into the Kurdish region of Iraq to go after members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, who have been launching attacks into Turkey.

Gates has called on Turkey to refrain from military action into Iraq, which he said “would create an international crisis and further undermine stability in Iraq.” He told Pentagon reporters at an Oct. 18 news briefing that he intends to reiterate this message in his meeting with Gonul.

“We recognize the harm and heartbreak caused by terrorist attacks across the Iraqi border into Turkey and are working with both governments to rein in the activities of the PKK,” he said, vowing to help Turkey counter the threat.

Tomorrow, Gates will attend the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial here before leaving for Prague. Later in the week, he will participate in a NATO informal defense ministerial in Noordwijk, Netherlands, and speak to a U.S. Army Europe-sponsored Conference of European Armies meeting in Germany.

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