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Bush to discuss Ukraine's NATO bid in Kiev

RIA Novosti

31/03/2008 10:42 KIEV, March 31 (RIA Novosti) - U.S. President George Bush is due to arrive in Kiev late on Monday evening for a two-day state visit which is expected to see him discuss Ukraine's bid for NATO membership with President Viktor Yushchenko.

Bush will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart for closed-door talks on Tuesday morning, after which extended talks will be held, a Ukrainian presidential spokesman said.

The meeting comes just a few days before a NATO summit in Bucharest on April 2-4. Yushchenko earlier spoke of his confidence that NATO would back the former Soviet republic's request to join the Membership Action Plan, a precursor to full membership of the military alliance, at the Romanian summit. Another former Soviet republic, Georgia, is also seeking membership.

However, a number of European NATO members, including Germany and France, have expressed concern over the two countries' NATO bids, unwilling to further anger Russia, already irritated by and wary of the alliance's ongoing eastward expansion.

Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin recently threatened to target nuclear missiles on Ukraine if it joins NATO. Yushchenko responded by saying that even if Ukraine did join NATO the alliance would not be allowed to deploy bases on Ukrainian territory as this would contradict the county's Constitution.

Prior to the visit to Kiev, Bush told reporters that, "I do know that one of the signals we're going to have to send, and must send, is there is a clear path forward for Ukraine and Georgia." He was also keen to stress, however, that no decision on the Action Plan would be made during his visit to the Ukrainian capital, telling a reporter from Kiev that, "It's very important for the people in your country to understand that the decision won't be made until after I leave Ukraine and make it to Romania."

Ukraine's drive toward NATO membership has also triggered domestic parliamentary opposition protests amid widespread distrust and antipathy toward the alliance. A recent survey published earlier this month said only 11% of Ukrainians supported the country's drive to join NATO, while almost 36% were strongly opposed.

The Ukrainian opposition is expected to hold protests on Monday against Bush's visit and his support for Ukraine's NATO bid.

After leaving Kiev, Bush will travel to the NATO summit in Bucharest. Vladimir Putin is also set to attend the summit.

After the Bucharest summit, Bush and Putin are due to meet in Sochi, a Russian resort city on the Black Sea, on April 6 for more discussions on NATO's ongoing expansion and U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. They are also likely to discuss Kosovo, and Russia's refusal to recognize the "world's newest state," which declared unilateral independence from Serbia on February 17.

Around 4,000 police are to provide security in the Ukrainian capital during the U.S. president's visit, with 1,000 of them deployed along the 30-kilometer-long highway between Boryspil International airport and Kiev.



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