Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Chief Makes 'Symbolic' Ukraine Visit

KIEV -- NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana was due to arrive in Ukraine late Wednesday for a two-day visit which officials here describe carefully as "symbolic."

But while former colonial master and neighbor Russia keeps a jealous eye on the former Soviet state of 50 million, diplomats and analysts say Ukraine aims eventually to be a member of the Western defense alliance.

"The visit is symbolic as tomorrow [Thursday] is the first anniversary of the charter on a special partnership between Ukraine and NATO," Olexander Maydannyk, spokesman for Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, said in Kiev.

Ukraine signed the charter at the NATO summit in Madrid last year when Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were accepted for membership.

Maydannyk said Solana and Kuchma would meet Thursday to discuss NATO enlargement. Solana will travel the same day to the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk to visit a rocket factory which built ballistic missiles in Soviet times.

Russia is hurting at the loss of two rings of defense -- Central Europe and the former Soviet republics -- and views NATO's membership drive with alarm.

Russia is determined Ukraine should not march into NATO's camp.

"Moscow won't even begin to imagine the possibility of Ukraine as a NATO member so Ukraine has to tread very carefully," said Volodymyr Chunak, analyst at the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kiev.

In the daily Fakty on Wednesday, pro-Western Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said Ukrainian membership of NATO was not on the table.

But unlike the growling Russian bear, Tarasyuk welcomed NATO expansion as a means of ensuring stability in Europe. "We consider NATO an alliance of democratic countries so we see the inclusion of new members as widening the zone of security and stability in the region," he said.

Diplomats see the recent appointment of Tarasyuk, who worked closely with NATO when he was Ukraine's ambassador to the Benelux countries, as a sign Ukraine is making eventual integration with Western structures a priority.