- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

KIEV Ukraine has begun aggressively knocking at NATO's door, with officials contemplating a formal request for full membership in the Western alliance during a summit in November.

The direction of the NATO-Ukraine partnership has taken on some urgency since May 23, when Ukraine's national security and defense council announced that Kiev aspires to integrate fully into Euro-Atlantic structures.

President Leonid Kuchma last week signed a decree giving the council the go-ahead to take the necessary steps to ensure that integration becomes a reality.

Kiev will have to decide by November if it will formally ask to begin the process of NATO membership.

The alliance will meet in Prague at that time and is expected to offer membership to several former Soviet bloc countries, including the Baltic states.

Though Ukraine is not among the nine nations being considered for membership at the Prague meeting, a Ukraine-NATO summit also will be held.

NATO officials were in Ukraine last week commemorating five years since the signing of a charter on a partnership between Kiev and the alliance.

While the visit was full of polemics on both sides, Ukraine appeared more determined than ever to take the first steps toward membership.

"No matter what anyone says, NATO was taken by surprise by our announcement," said Ivan Zayets, a parliament member who has been a proponent of NATO membership since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. "They will have to deal with us."

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson tried to downplay Ukraine's newfound enthusiasm by saying the alliance was not ready to set a date when negotiations for membership could begin.

But he also said NATO was willing to go as far with Ukraine as Kiev was with NATO.

Washington has taken a similar approach to Ukraine's aspirations. During an address to graduates of the Lviv Theological Academy last month, U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual outlined Washington's position.

"To those once skeptical of Ukraine's commitment to the Euro-Atlantic community, now is the time to dispel that skepticism through Ukraine's own actions. The United States has welcomed Ukraine's aspirations for closer ties to Euro-Atlantic structures," Mr. Pascual said.

Ukraine's leadership understands that NATO membership is a critical component of its strategy for European integration, said Borys Tarasyuk, a former foreign minister who heads the Kiev-based Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation.

"This is not a tactical maneuver," he said. "This fits 100 percent into Ukraine's strategy of integration."

Russia also has stopped being a stumbling bloc, Mr. Tarasyuk said. Russia's special partnership with the alliance, which gives Moscow a voice in military issues, has pushed that country closer to NATO.

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