Ukraine Won't Apply to NATO, Reaffirms Russia Ties

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadiy Udovenko has dampened any expectations of a policy tilt to the West by excluding the possibility that his former Soviet republic will apply for NATO membership anytime soon.

While welcoming improving relations with NATO and the United States, Mr. Udovenko said in an interview: "For the time being, Ukraine is not going to apply for NATO membership because we pursue non-bloc policy."

The minister also said that Ukraine "won't build its relations with the West at the expense of its relationship with Russia."

Ukraine considers its relations with Moscow "very important" and tries to improve them, because in spite of old feuds "Russia remains Ukraine's biggest market," Mr. Udovenko said.

Although Ukraine has emphasized its aspiration to join the European Union and has called for a collective security system in Europe with NATO playing the primary role, it has been ambiguous about whether it would seek to join the alliance.

Mr. Udovenko, who is also president of the U.N. General Assembly, spoke in his U.N. office Saturday, hours before flying to Kiev to prepare for parliamentary elections on Sunday.

There is a chance that the communists will become the majority party in Parliament, he said, but he doesn't expect changes in the country's foreign policy, which is formulated by President Leonid Kuchma.

Acting under U.S. pressure on March 6, Ukraine pulled out of a contract to supply turbines for a Russian-built nuclear power station in Iran. In Kiev that same day, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright hailed a new era in Washington's strategic partnership with Ukraine.

But Mr. Udovenko expressed a slight disappointment with some aspects of the way the United States treats Ukraine.

"We are criticized in Congress for the slow process of economic reforms, but I can't agree with that. We are a young country, and in less than seven years we reformed our political system, adopted a new constitution, became a member of the Council of Europe.

"We don't have to forget that Ukraine inherited a collapsed Soviet economy. …