Bush Supports Ukraine Joining NATO

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President Bush is encouraging former Soviet republics like Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite Russia's displeasure with NATO's growing ranks.

Ukraine put on a formal welcoming ceremony for Bush on Tuesday before his meetings with President Viktor Yushchenko at the Presidential Secretariat. Ukraine wants to be put on the path toward eventual NATO membership.

Ukrainian officials are determined to showcase the sort of reforms needed to get an invitation for membership -- both during Bush's brief visit to Kiev and during the NATO summit later this week in Bucharest, Romania.

Bush Shows Support for Ukraine

Bush stopped in Ukraine as a show of support, intending to praise its democratic reforms and help make the case for NATO membership.

Ukraine started taking steps toward meeting the alliance's military and political standards after Yushchenko became president in the wake of the 2004 street protests, called the Orange Revolution.

Since then, Ukraine has gained a vibrant opposition, a robust media, and has held a series of clean elections.

It has also set out to modernize its Soviet-style military, including creating an all-volunteer army and changing troop deployment and training to meet NATO standards.

Kiev abandoned customs and practices that date to Soviet and even Czarist Russia times, such as using soldiers for kitchen duty and outfitting them in cumbersome footwear.

It also sought to prove itself by deploying troops to Iraq in 2003-2005 and sending peacekeepers to Kosovo and Lebanon.

Obstacles to NATO Membership

Problems still remain, however, ranging from rampant corruption to constant political turmoil, which has caused a stream of government shake-ups and early elections over the past years.

Another huge road block in Ukraine's path to NATO membership is Russia.

With nine former Soviet bloc countries already in NATO, Russia fiercely opposes the eastward expansion of an alliance it denounces as a Cold War relic.

As a result, Germany and France have spoken out against putting Ukraine on the list just yet.

They fear upsetting already strained ties with Russia, which is a major supplier of energy to Europe.

Source: The Associated Press

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