Duma Warns Ukraine Over Bid to Join NATO

The State Duma on Wednesday recommended that the Kremlin consider pulling out of a friendship treaty with Ukraine if it takes further steps to join NATO.

Duma resolutions are nonbinding, and the Kremlin has not expressed its position, but the move is likely to add to pressure on Ukraine days before its pro-Western leader meets President Dmitry Medvedev.

Moscow is opposed to Ukraine joining NATO, saying that would threaten Russian security and jeopardize an arrangement under which Russia leases Ukraine's Black Sea port of Sevastopol as a base for its Navy.

The Duma recommended the government withdraw from a 1997 friendship treaty if Ukraine is given a NATO Membership Action Plan, a road map to membership, or other steps are taken to speed up its accession to the alliance.

Scrapping the treaty could, in theory, open the way for Russia to mount a legal challenge to Ukraine's sovereignty over Sevastopol. Kiev says it is part of its territory.

The treaty recognizes the port as within Ukraine's borders, but Russian legal experts say that without this document, the legal grounds for its status as part of Ukraine are shaky.

The Crimean Peninsula, which includes Sevastopol, was part of the Russian republic of the Soviet Union until 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev signed it over to the Ukrainian republic. Some in Russia say Khrushchev's decision was illegal.

The Duma voted 408-5 to adopt a resolution on Ukraine that included the friendship treaty recommendation.