NATO plans ministerial talks with Ukraine
BRUSSELS (AFP) Apr 21, 2004
NATO will hold informal ministerial-level talks with Ukraine in June, an official said Wednesday, stressing the importance of ties with Kiev.

"It's more or less confirmed. This is what we're planning for," said the official, commenting on reports that an informal meeting of NATO defence ministers with Ukraine is planned for June 6-7 in Warsaw.

The plans are firming up after NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Kiev this week and complimented Ukraine for being an "important contributor" to UN peacekeeping forces stationed in Kosovo.

"Ukraine has a very substantial body of people under arms, so it's an important political, financial and military issue," said the NATO official, noting Kiev's troop contributions in both the Balkans and Iraq.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that one day hopes to join NATO as it inches away from neighboring Russia, has hailed the recent expansion of the transatlantic alliance as a "key element" for European security.

NATO this month took in seven former communist countries, but Ukraine remains shut out.

Kiev has repeatedly voiced intentions to join the Brussels-based alliance, although it would require a massive overhaul of its ageing Soviet-era military in order to qualify, one which the country has been unable to afford.

NATO regularly holds talks with Ukraine on the margins of other ministerial meetings. The Warsaw talks will be the third such meeting after talks in Berlin two years ago and then Washington last year.

The alliance official said the meeting will officially be at "high level," but NATO hopes that many member states will send their defence ministers.