NATO eyes face-saver for Ukraine, Georgia

10:29, 25 November 2008

As prospects of the two ex-Soviet states securing membership plans dim...

NATO is studying face-saving options for Ukraine and Georgia as prospects of the two ex-Soviet states securing membership plans dim ahead of Dec. 2-3 talks among alliance foreign ministers, diplomats said, according to Reuters.

Washington has led a push for NATO to offer both countries a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a key step towards entry, at next week`s meeting in Brussels.

Russia, a key energy supplier to Europe, is fiercely opposed to Ukraine or Georgia joining NATO. France and Germany blocked offers of MAPs to both at an alliance summit in April, which did however promise them eventual NATO membership and a review of their cases in December.

A five-day August war between Georgia and Russia, together with political instability in Ukraine, have since added to European doubts.

"The MAP is dead for Georgia," a senior European diplomat said in Washington.

"For the NATO ministerial, no one believes in it but we will try and find some kind of face-saving (solution)," the diplomat said. Options could include a new formula for ties that would stop short of a full MAP offer.

A MAP is a programme of advice and practical support covering political, economic, defence and security cooperation designed to help aspiring countries prepare for membership.

Some NATO states say offering a MAP is only a technical step and does not prejudge any final membership decision. Others say it is hard to refuse entry to a state once a MAP has been granted.


The diplomat said there was no appetite to anger the Russians further over the issue next month. A NATO diplomat said debate between the 26 NATO allies on the communique on Georgia and Ukraine could continue into the ministers` meeting.

European Union worries were underlined when Russian gas monopoly Gazprom warned at the weekend it would not continue deliveries to Ukraine until a new contract was signed, rekindling memories of 2006 when a pricing dispute led to a brief supply cut to Europe.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko urged NATO last week to put his country on a fast track to membership after Russia`s new demands for payment of arrears for gas.

However his political adviser said it would not be a tragedy if NATO failed to offer Kiev a MAP next month, a remark that appeared to show Ukraine recognised its hopes were receding.

In recent weeks, U.S. officials have said they are looking at whether NATO could offer Georgia something short of a formal path to membership and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this month there was more than one way for aspiring countries to join the alliance. "Some have not gone through MAP at all," he said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack predicted there would be a "healthy discussion" in Brussels, and added: "Our policy is unchanged."

The NATO ministers will also review a decision to suspend high-level meetings of the main NATO-Russia dialogue forum, the NATO-Russia Council, taken after the Georgia conflict.

Despite differences over the extent to which Russia has complied with a ceasefire accord in Georgia, European nations -- most of them NATO members -- have agreed to relaunch talks on an EU-Russia political and economic pact on Dec. 2.

However U.S. officials have raised doubts about prospects of a fast return to normal ties between NATO and Russia.


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