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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Casts Doubt on NATO Bid

KIEV — President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he has "great doubts" that NATO's mission in Macedonia to disarm ethnic-Albanian militants will succeed.

On arrival in Kiev, where he was to take part in Independence Day celebrations and meet with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, Putin said he "counts very much on" the NATO operation bringing positive results.

"Although there are great doubts that it will, because it's difficult to count on the rebels handing over their arms," Putin said, according to Interfax.

Trajkovski, who arrived shortly before Putin, said, "Russia and Macedonia have a lot of things to work together on" in regulating the situation in the Balkans.

"Especially, we would like together to create an integrated Europe, where Russia and Macedonia have the same roles to fight against undemocratic steps and against disorder, crime and terrorism," Trajkovski said in English.

Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, who was the first of the visiting heads of state to arrive, took part in the opening of newly renovated Independence Square and was expected to have a working meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma before departing later Thursday.

Speaking at the ceremony, Kuchma called for unity in Ukraine. "Remember that consent builds a home and disagreements destroy it," he said.

Kwasniewski praised Ukraine's achievements in building a new state structure and maintaining good relations with its neighbors, according to Interfax. However, he criticized Ukraine's economic failures and called for society to be more active. Poland was the first country to recognize independent Ukraine and has tried to form a bridge between Ukraine and the West and help Ukraine reduce its reliance on Russia.

Ukraine officially did not become independent until the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, but like most of the 15 former Soviet republics it declared its sovereignty immediately after the failed coup in August 1991.

Trajkovski and Putin were to remain in Kiev for the culmination of festivities on Friday. Putin was also expected to meet with Kwasniewski and Kuchma.