Ukraine 'shelves bid to join NATO'
BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) -- Ukraine has told NATO it is shelving its aspirations to join the Western defence alliance because of widespread public opposition and to preserve the former Soviet republic's relations with Russia.
"We have explained that because of the political situation in Ukraine, we will have to take a pause, But the time will come when a decision will be made," new Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich told a joint news conference Thursday after talks with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and NATO ambassadors.
"We have to convince society," he added.
Russia fiercely opposed the previous pro-Western Ukrainian government's intention to join NATO's Membership Action Plan, a path towards eventual entry into the U.S.-led military pact.
Yanukovich, regarded as closer to Moscow than reformist President Viktor Yushchenko, who came to power in an Orange Revolution after defeating Yanukovich in a flawed 2004 election, said he did not want to complicate Ukraine-Russia relations.
"We (Ukraine) should be a reliable bridge between the European Union and Russia," he said.
After meeting European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner earlier, Yanukovich said: "For the time being we are looking at enlargement of our cooperation with NATO.
"Integration with NATO is a question which finds a favourable response of only a small part of the Ukrainian population." One poll last week showed 60 percent of Ukrainians opposed to NATO membership.
NATO leaders had been due to discuss the issue at a summit in Riga in November. Yanukovich's statement appeared to remove a potential source of friction between the United States and east European neighbours such as Poland, which back Ukrainian membership, and others led by France that are sceptical.
Yanukovich, appointed in August after months of political deadlock, said Ukraine aimed to cooperate with both Russia and the European Union.
"We are going to have policies of reuniting interests," he said.
Yushchenko had a long-stated desire to seek NATO membership despite Russian objections.
On Wednesday, Ukraine won the promise of negotiations early next year on broader ties with the European Union that could include a free trade deal.
Yanukovich stated Ukraine's long-term goal of accession to the EU but Ferrero-Waldner reiterated the EU's position that this was not a prospect for the moment.
She said signing a free trade deal with Ukraine was dependent on Kiev's accession to the World Trade Organisation.
Yanukovich said Ukraine aimed to pass all the laws this year needed to join the WTO and the government was working on reforms to deal with corruption and boost economic growth.
Energy cooperation will be part of the talks with the EU which was alarmed in January when Moscow cut supplies of gas to Ukraine in a dispute over pricing, temporarily reducing supplies to Western Europe.
The EU and Ukraine signed a deal on Thursday paving the way for European financing of oil and gas meters on pipelines across Ukraine's borders.
Ferrero-Waldner said the project was aimed at increasing the transparency, reliability and safety of supplies.
Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Why do I have the feeling that even china is going to end up in the UE? Even if people don't want it...
Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
~Harrie's proud brother!~