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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Center to Fight Kiev's Bid to Join NATO

A Ukrainian lawmaker on Thursday harshly criticized her nation's plan to join NATO and opened an information center in Moscow aimed at opposing the move.

Natalya Vitrenko, a radical socialist who leads the New Opposition bloc running for seats in March's parliamentary elections, said the government of President Viktor Yushchenko could make a NATO bid as early as the first half of the year if it wins a majority in parliament.

"If Ukraine joins NATO, it will become an open enemy of Russia," said Vitrenko, who represents a fringe party. "Ukraine will host NATO bases presenting a direct military threat to Russia."

Yushchenko has made NATO membership a top goal.

Vitrenko, who ran in Ukraine's 1999 presidential election, spoke at the opening of the Anti-NATO Information Center, which is located on a freshly painted ground floor of a shabby apartment building at 10 Khokhlovsky Pereulok.

Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-linked political analyst who helped run the ill-starred campaign of Yushchenko's Moscow-backed rival, also attended the opening. "Our nation is being dragged into NATO behind the people's back," Vitrenko said. "We must mobilize all healthy forces of society to oppose this evil scenario."

Many Ukrainians view NATO with hostility and fear that alliance membership would worsen relations with Moscow and ruin the nation's defense industry, which has close links to Russia.

Markov sought to play on these fears Thursday, saying that "Ukrainian boys will be used as cannon fodder."

During recent weeks, Moscow and Kiev have been locked in an acrimonious dispute over Russian natural gas deliveries to Ukraine. Gazprom more than quadrupled the price for Ukraine starting next year, and Ukraine has refused to pay.

Markov claimed Thursday that Gazprom had been caught in a "trap" set by the Ukrainian authorities, who will use the conflict to fan anti-Russian sentiments.