Russia, NATO loom in Cheney's Ukraine visit

10:17, 05 September 2008
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He came to Kyiv after talks in Georgia

Vice President Dick Cheney will reassure Ukrainian leaders of U.S. backing on Friday as they grapple with a domestic political crisis and face up to the fallout from Russia`s conflict with Georgia, according to Reuters.

Cheney is on a whistle-stop tour of southern Caucasus and Black Sea states, designed to shore up support for U.S. allies after Russia`s five-day war with Georgia, which like Ukraine is pressing hard to join NATO.

He came to Kyiv after talks in Georgia and oil-producing Azerbaijan, two key links in an energy corridor that bypasses Russia to bring around one percent of world crude oil output daily to western markets from the Caspian Sea.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner openly asked if Russia had designs on parts of Ukraine, notably Crimea, which hosts a major Russian naval base leased from Kiev, in the wake of Moscow`s intervention in Georgia`s South Ossetia region.

The war in Georgia prompted Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to step up his calls for swift NATO membership, which he says is vital to protect Ukraine`s territorial integrity.

"This is only possible in one situation -- when Ukraine integrates into the transatlantic alliance (NATO), starting with receiving the MAP (Membership Action Plan)," he said in a statement on his website.

NATO states in April refused to give Ukraine and Georgia a MAP -- the first step towards membership -- but said they would one day join the alliance.

NATO countries will revisit the issue in December but Washington`s top envoy to the Caucasus, Matthew Bryza, said on Aug. 23 that Russia`s actions in Georgia had underscored the importance of NATO membership.

"Russia did not lift a finger against the Baltic states once they entered NATO. It would not lift a finger against Ukraine if Ukraine were in NATO," he told Ekho Moskvy radio.

However, France and Germany opposed granting Ukraine a membership roadmap in April and the crisis over Georgia is likely to have confirmed their reticence.

Analysts say the Crimea region in southern Ukraine could be used by Russia to destabilise the country. It hosts Russia`s Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol, and the majority of people living there are ethnic Russians.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine peaked towards the end of last month when Yushchenko, a stout supporter of Georgia, imposed stricter rules of movement for the Russian fleet based in the rented port.

Yushchenko was angered that Russia used ships from the fleet in the conflict with Georgia, saying this "passively" involved Ukraine in the war. He repeated that the lease agreement, due to run out in 2017, would not be extended.

Although the president runs foreign and defence policy, polls show that the majority of Ukrainians do not want to join NATO, which is still perceived as an anti-Russian alliance.

Cheney`s visit comes at a time of turbulent domestic politics. Yushchenko announced on Wednesday that Kiev`s coalition government had collapsed and threatened to call a snap parliamentary vote.

It would be the third election in as many years in Ukraine, where Yushchenko swept to power in a 2004 "Orange Revolution" on a promise of greater integration with the West.


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