Cheney Calls for Ukraine Unity to Meet Threats, Backs NATO Bid

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney called for unity in Ukraine to meet potential threats following Russia's five-day war with Georgia, and renewed U.S. backing for the former Soviet republic's bid to join NATO.

``Ukraine's best hope to overcome these threats is to be united -- united domestically first and foremost, and united with other democracies,'' Cheney, 67, said after talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in the capital Kiev.

Ukraine is the third Russian neighbor Cheney has visited this week on a mission ordered by President George W. Bush to assert U.S. interests in the area and to assure regional leaders of American support after Russia's military incursion into Georgia last month.

Ukraine, divided by language and politics into a Russian- dominated east and Ukrainian west, became a source of increasing concern for the West after Russia rolled over Georgia's army and recognized the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France, which holds the European Union's rotating presidency, said on Aug. 27 that Ukraine and Moldova may now be ``Russian targets.''

Yushchenko, 54, has steered Ukraine, a conduit for natural- gas and crude oil exports to Europe, toward membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU. The military alliance agreed in April that Ukraine and Georgia will eventually become members, while refusing to put their bids on a fast track.

`Urgent' Bid

Yushchenko said Ukraine's bid to join NATO ``is really urgent,'' and that expansion of the alliance to the east ``will be an ensured factor of stability in the region.''

Russia considers the eastward expansion of NATO a threat to its security. Then-President Vladimir Putin said in February that Russia ``could aim its missiles systems at Ukraine'' if it joins NATO and allows the alliance to place military facilities on its territory.

Cheney said ``no outside country gets a veto'' on the push by Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO, adding that the commitment made in April ``stands today.''

The vice president arrived in Kiev amid political uncertainty. Yushchenko on Sept. 3 threatened to dissolve parliament and call new elections after his party quit the ruling coalition when Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko teamed up with a pro-Russian opposition party to strip the president of some powers.

Energy Corridor

Timoshenko also rejected Yushchenko's demand to condemn Russia's incursion into Georgia. Yushchenko's allies accused Timoshenko of ``treason'' for failing to condemn Russia, whose Black Sea fleet is based on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. They said she's seeking Russian support in Ukraine's presidential election, scheduled for 2010. Timoshenko rejected the accusation, saying she is for ``Georgian territorial integrity.''

Cheney previously visited Azerbaijan and Georgia, vital links in a U.S.-backed ``southern energy corridor'' that connects the Caspian Sea region with world markets, bypassing Russia. He said in Baku that the U.S. and European countries, including Turkey, ``must work with Azerbaijan and other countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia on additional routes for energy exports that ensure the free flow of resources.''

Russia, which supplies a quarter of Europe's gas, relies on transit pipelines through Ukraine for most of those deliveries. Ukraine depends on Russia for 71 percent of its gas needs.

Gas Shut-Offs

Since 2006, OAO Gazprom, Russia's natural gas exporter, has reduced gas flows to Ukraine twice during pricing disputes, raising EU concerns about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier. Russia has denied using the shut-offs to put political pressure on Ukraine, calling them commercial disputes.

Cheney and Yushchenko renewed their support for Georgia in its conflict with Russia.

``The people of Georgia are looking to both our countries, and to the rest of the free world, to support them in this time of great trial and testing, and we must answer the call,'' Cheney said.

Yushchenko said Ukraine supports Georgia's territorial integrity, and expressed concern that the conflict may spread. ``The conflict of Aug. 8 showed there are security risks in the Black Sea area,'' he said. Russian naval forces in the Black Sea may clash with other forces in the area, potentially drawing Ukraine into a conflict, he said.

Yushchenko's `Isolation'

``Yushchenko's personal support for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has isolated him politically at home and undermined his bid to lead Ukraine into NATO,'' Medley Global Advisors LCC, a New York based policy intelligence service, said in an e-mailed note. ``Russia is looking on with thinly veiled satisfaction and, as critical gas price talks loom, will be hoping that Timoshenko teams up in a government with pro-Moscow forces.''

Yushchenko, who is in charge of Ukraine's foreign policy, yesterday reassured a group of ambassadors from the Group of Seven major industrialized countries that Ukraine's move toward NATO and the EU will continue regardless of who wins the next election.

[Source: Bloomberg, Ukr, 05Sep08]

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