NATO-Ukraine meet to boost ties
WARSAW (AFP) Jun 07, 2004
NATO defence ministers held talks with the Ukraine on Monday as the alliance seeks ways of boosting cooperation with a strategic eastern ally as it adapts to new security challenges.

"Ukraine is and will remain a partner with which NATO wants to promote political consultations as well as practical cooperation. We have achieved much together but there is considerable potential to do more," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the opening of the one-day meeting.

"Ukraine has shown on a number of occasions that it is a producer and exporter rather than a mere consumer of security," he said, saying it played a key "role in maintaining peace and security in the Euroatlantic area and beyond."

Ukraine's Defence Minister Evhen Marchuk told the meeting the talks would broach "a wide range of issues from restructuring Ukrainian military organisation to participating in the joint fight against terrorism and peacekeeping operations."

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic of 48 million inhabitants, announced in 2002 that it planned to join the North Atlantic alliance and has also set 2011 as a target date for starting negotiations on joining the European Union.

While insisting on what Polish Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told the meeting were "painful, but indispensable" democratic reforms, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has increasingly embraced Ukraine, as it adapts to new security threats like the fight against terrorism.

Ukraine has contributed to a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo and opened its airspace and contributed Antonov aircraft to NATO forces in Afghanistan.

It has also contributed some 1,650 soldiers to a NATO-supported Polish-led multinational force which is patrolling a large swathe of southern Iraq.

In a sign of the developing relationship, President Leonid Kuchma has been invited to NATO's end-June summit in Istanbul, the first meeting of alliance leaders since admitting seven new ex-communist bloc countries, including three former Soviet republics.