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Bush in Kyiv to Encourage NATO Membership for Ukraine, Georgia

By Paula Wolfson
31 March 2008

U.S. President George Bush has arrived in Ukraine - the first stop on a European tour that will also take him to Croatia, Russia and the NATO summit in Romania. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from Kyiv this is his first visit to the Ukrainian capital.

There were indications President Bush wanted to visit Ukraine several years ago. But there was political turmoil in Kyiv - the result of a feud between the nation's president and prime minister - and the idea was put on hold.

Over time, the crisis eased and a power-sharing arrangement emerged. And President Bush is finally making his trip as the country makes its first steps toward a bid for membership in NATO.

The quest is not without controversy. Moscow is strongly opposed, saying membership for Ukraine and Georgia - which is also seeking a membership plan - would be a threat to European security.

President Bush says that is not the case. He says this is a way that NATO can help these emerging democracies solidify hard-fought gains.

White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley says these countries are not asking to immediately become part of NATO, but rather to initiate a process that will prepare them for membership. He says that process could take years.

"What we have learned in our experience in Central and Eastern Europe is that [the membership plan] can provide a useful framework to encourage countries to make the right decisions they need to make to advance their own reform and democracy," he said.

But several other NATO members have voiced concerns about Ukraine and Georgia, saying they may not be ready to begin the membership process.

And while the goal to become part of the alliance is strongly supported by the Ukrainian government, the general public is far less united on the subject.

While President Bush was traveling to Kyiv, there were demonstrations against NATO. In one city block, protesters gathered in a square surrounded by banners covered with obscenities denouncing both the alliance and the visiting head of state.

Mr. Bush is likely to get a much warmer reception on Tuesday when he confers with Ukraine's leaders. He will also visit the historic St. Sophia's Cathedral, as well as a public school where he will view a student presentation on preventing AIDS.

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