Kiev Wins Warsaw's Support on NATO

ReutersUkrainian President Viktor Yushchenko getting out of a Su-27 fighter plane after a flight outside Kiev on Friday.
KIEV -- The struggle over Ukraine's bid to join NATO has intensified, with Poland voicing its support for Kiev and thousands of Ukrainians rallying against NATO.

NATO holds a summit this week in Bucharest, Romania, where alliance members will discuss granting Ukraine and Georgia the Membership Action Plan -- a precursor to full membership.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, on a visit to Kiev on Friday, urged the alliance to embrace Ukraine's bid.

"Poland has, is and will fully support giving Ukraine MAP at the Bucharest summit," he told reporters.

President Vladimir Putin has threatened to aim nuclear weapons at Ukraine if it joins NATO and accepts the deployment of anti-missile defenses on its territory -- a threat that prompted wide condemnation in the West.

Underscoring uncertainty over Ukraine's chances, the Polish prime minister hinted that, regardless of the summit's outcome, Ukraine would continue to closely cooperate with NATO.

"Regardless of the complexity of this issue, I believe Ukraine will achieve a positive result," Tusk said after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Thousands of anti-NATO activists rallied Saturday in the Crimean city of Simferopol, protesting Ukraine's possible membership and the upcoming visit of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The demonstrators held banners reading "NATO is war against Slavic people" and "Forever with Russia," and burned a U.S. flag, the Unian news agency reported.

They also demanded the withdrawal of Ukrainian peacekeepers from Kosovo, where a Ukrainian officer was killed and dozens more were injured in clashes in mid-March.

Opinion polls indicate many Ukrainians are distrustful of NATO and others fear membership would harm relations with Russia while bringing little benefit.

Ukraine has been divided over the issue of possible NATO membership. Most Ukrainians, particularly in the largely Russian-speaking east and south, remain deeply skeptical of the alliance.

The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, home to many ethnic Russians, hosts Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

Meanwhile, Tusk and Tymoshenko on Friday agreed to ease movement for people living along their border, resolving a tense dispute that had stalled traffic there and led to weeks of angry protests by Ukrainians living in the area.

Both leaders stressed that bilateral relations were strong.

"Our meeting today confirmed that ... friendship between Poland and Ukraine is not just a motto, but it is a fact," Tusk said. He added that since both prime ministers assumed office at the end of last year, bilateral ties have acquired "new breath, new wings."

Tymoshenko and Tusk also vowed to speed up preparations for the 2012 European Championship which Ukraine and Poland are co-hosting. UEFA officials have warned that preparations are running late, prompting speculation that they might lose the right to host the tournament.

n Several hundred people rallied in northern Poland on Saturday against U.S. plans to build a missile-defense base in the region.

About 300 protesters marched through the northern city of Slupsk, police said. The demonstrators carried banners reading "We don't want to be your missile shield" and "Not one step more in the arms race."

Slupsk is 5 kilometers from the shuttered Redzikowo air base, which is a likely site for the U.S. interceptor missiles.

Filip Ilkowski, from the Stop War Initiative, said the system would lead to "greater militarization and a more unstable world."