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Ukraine reaffirms wish to join NATO, says no threat to Russia

The Ukrainian president reaffirmed his country’s aspiration to join NATO while on a three-day visit to Canada and thanked the Canadian parliament for its support of Kiev’s bid.

Viktor Yushchenko addressed the Canadian parliament and held talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday aiming to boost support for the country’s NATO bid, which he said posed no threat to any country. Yushchenko said that NATO membership for Ukraine was motivated by the long years of repression his country suffered as part of Soviet Union, citing the 1932-33 famine or Holodmor, which claimed up to 10 million lives. Harper pledged to back a bill formally recognizing the Holodmor as a deliberate act of genocide. “Ukraine is the only non-NATO country supporting every NATO mission in some way or other,” Harper was quoted as saying in Canada’s Gazette. “The decision to seek alliance with others is a decision for, and only for, the sovereign nation of Ukraine,” he said in an apparent reference to Russia’s vehement opposition to the move.

Earlier Tuesday, a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said referring to Russian-Ukrainian talks held on May 23 to discuss concerns regarding Ukraine’s NATO bid, “the issue of Euro-Atlantic course is no threat to the security of neighboring countries.” During the talks Russia said that “the modern nature of challenges and threats demands distinctive, genuinely collective answers, rather than the expansion of military-political alliances created during Cold War years.”

The Ukrainian opposition said on Tuesday it was in favor of EU integration, but was reluctant to accept NATO membership. Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s former prime minister and Party of Regions leader said at a meeting with EU envoys: “The issue of joining [NATO] is possible only after a pan-Ukrainian referendum.”

Russia has repeatedly dismissed Ukraine’s NATO bid as a violation of bilateral friendship agreements. Russia’s top military officials have said that if Ukraine joins the alliance, Russia will have to take military or other measures to guarantee its security. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said that, Russia would do its best to prevent Ukraine and former Soviet state Georgia  from joining NATO.

Georgia has been seeking NATO membership, backed by the US, ever since President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in 2004 on the back of a bloodless revolution. At a NATO summit in early April, NATO powers voted against admitting Ukraine and Georgia to the alliance’s Membership Plan, the first step towards membership, but said they would review the decision at the end of the year. (