US, Ukraine look to strengthen ties
A new strategic partnership statement between the two countries
The United States and Ukraine are looking for ways to strengthen cooperation while rejecting Moscow`s claim to a sphere of influence along its borders, AP reported.
A new strategic partnership statement between the two countries, though nonbinding, outlines areas of cooperation and reiterates the U.S. commitment to eventual NATO membership for Ukraine.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ogryzko were signing the document Friday.
It is intended to send a message to Russia, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Merkel.
"It is a clear signal from the U.S. and from Ukraine that the partnership is strong and the path toward democracy and European integration is strong," Merkel said.
The document touches on broad areas of cooperation including economic development and defense, promising to enhance U.S. training and equipping of Ukraine`s military through NATO.
It also includes a statement by Ukraine welcoming the U.S. intention to open a new "diplomatic presence" on the Crimean peninsula, the Ukrainian region where Russia`s Black Sea fleet is based. The United States wants to aid economic development in Crimea to lessen the economic impact of an eventual base closure, Merkel said.
Russia`s war in August with Georgia, a NATO aspirant, and Moscow`s recognition of rebel Georgian territory as independent has stoked fears in Ukraine that Moscow may try to encourage a separatist movement in Crimea.
A majority of the 2 million residents of Crimea are ethnic Russians, many of whom feel close to Moscow. Russian officials have denied claims that Moscow has plans to encroach on Ukraine`s sovereignty.
But the issue is likely to remain tense because Russia has a lease on its Soviet-era naval base in Sevastopol until 2017 and Ukraine has said it will not be extended.
The new U.S.-Ukrainian document also signals that the United States is looking for ways to help Ukraine in the standoff.
Merkel said the document is intended to "break Moscow`s narrative that it has laid out markers saying that the direction has to be reversed, the direction of U.S. involvement has to be blunted."