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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Reaches Out to Ukraine

APSergei Lavrov handing Jaap de Hoop Scheffer a newly signed NATO-Russia military agreement in Vilnius on Thursday.
VILNIUS, Lithuania -- NATO foreign ministers offered to boost military and political cooperation with Ukraine on Thursday, prompting Kiev to set 2008 as a target for joining the military alliance.

Meeting for the first time on former Soviet soil, NATO ministers pledged to help Ukraine with reforms designed to prepare it for joining the alliance, but they stopped short of committing to eventual membership.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the decision "raises NATO's cooperation with Ukraine to a new level."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said the decision opened "a new chapter" in his country's relations with NATO. He said Ukraine would now push forward changes to meet alliance standards. "Ukraine may be ready to fulfill this ambitious program of reforms in, let us say, three years' time, so by the year 2008," Tarasyuk said at a news conference.

After expanding deep into Eastern Europe last year to include Lithuania and the other Baltic states, NATO turned its attention further east, holding separate talks with Tarasyuk, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov softened Moscow's opposition to efforts by its former Soviet satellites to join the military bloc. "It would be the choice of Ukraine to choose its partners," Lavrov said at a news conference after his meeting with the 26 NATO ministers.

He offered an upbeat assessment of cooperation with the alliance. "The time has come for us to find increased momentum in NATO-Russia relations, to move to a new level," he said.

Thursday's talks began with Lavrov signing an agreement with the allies to facilitate joint military maneuvers and troop training and to ease the transport of forces through each other's territories.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the signing "a concrete milestone in practical NATO-Russia cooperation."

The "status of forces agreement" offers legal protection to NATO troops on Russian territory and similar rights to Russian forces visiting NATO nations.

Allied diplomats said it could ease NATO supply lines to its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

"It provides us with a much needed legal framework that enhances substantially our ability to act together in the face of common threats," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Also on he agenda of the NATO-Russia meeting were differences over the role of Russian troops in Moldova and Georgia. Russia has troops in Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester and in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, and the governments of both countries have demanded that the military units be withdrawn.