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Bush launches European tour in Ukraine

4 min

US President George W. Bush arrived in Ukraine on Monday at the start of a European tour during which he is expected to push NATO allies for greater support in Afghanistan.


US President George W. Bush arrived in Ukraine Monday at the start of a tour to push NATO allies for more support in Afghanistan and to reach a compromise with Russia on defence plans.

At talks scheduled for Tuesday with Ukraine's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, Bush was expected to stress US support for the country's plans to join the NATO military alliance.

Bush will also be "pushing hard" for the alliance to embrace both Kiev and Georgia as potential members during a NATO summit that starts Wednesday, US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said.

"We think it's very, very, very important that, Georgia and Ukraine, that we welcome their aspirations to be part of NATO, that we have an active engagement in helping them move in that direction," Hadley said aboard Air Force One as Bush flew to Europe.

"I believe that NATO benefits and Ukraine and Georgia benefit if and when there is membership," Bush said ahead of his visit to Ukraine, where he touched down late Monday evening.

Analysts predicted however that neither country would be allowed to start the formal accession procedure at the April 2-4 meeting of alliance leaders in Romania.

Ahead of Bush's arrival, protesters demonstrated against accession both on Ukraine's politically sensitive Crimea peninsula on Saturday and in Kiev on Monday.

The protests underlined significant opposition to membership in Ukraine and by its giant neighbour Russia, whose president Vladimir Putin has been invited to the Bucharest meeting.

In Kiev, a few thousand protesters on Monday set up tents and hurled abuse at Bush and NATO.

"NATO is war, death and tears," read one banner, while another suggested Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko leave the country.

Amid a delicate patch in relations between Washington and Moscow, Bush is also to hold weekend talks with Putin in Russia.

Moscow-based defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said wider strategic considerations meant Georgia and Ukraine would not gain an immediate green light from NATO.

He said Bush was seeking a softening of Russian opposition to US plans to set up missile defence sites in the Czech Republic and Poland, as well as Russian agreement to allow NATO supplies to transit through Russia to Afghanistan.

In part, Bush wants to prove the success of his Republican party's policy on Russia and thus support the Republican candidate John McCain in the US election period, Felgenhauer said.

"It's a grand deal that involves a lot of things outside -- not only Ukraine and Georgia."

On the presidential plane Air Force One, Hadley expressed hope that Bush and Putin would resolve their differences over the missile shield during their weekend talks.

"I think we're moving in a direction... where Russia and the United States could have missile defence as an area of strategic cooperation," he said.

Another theme of Bush's tour is to persuade NATO states to commit more troops for Afghanistan, where failure would be seen as a personal blow.

"Part of our collective mission... for the NATO meeting is to encourage people to take our obligations seriously," Bush said on the subject.

Hadley returned to the theme.

"We've been saying for some time that all of us need to do more in Afghanistan, and I think you're going to see countries coming up and doing more," he told reporters.

Ahead of Bush's arrival here, Ukraine's desire for NATO membership was stressed by Yushchenko's chief spokesman, Alexander Chaly.

"We hope the United States will clearly support our ambition to join the membership action plan," a formal step towards membership, Chaly said.

Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili was more strident. He warned NATO against "appeasing" Russia and drew historical comparisons with the appeasement of Nazi Germany, in an interview with The Financial Times daily in Britain.

Several NATO states oppose giving Georgia and Ukraine the go-ahead, notably Germany, which has sought close ties with Putin and Russia's president-elect Dmitry Medvedev.

In Kiev, analyst Vladimir Fesenko said Ukraine would not be deterred by Western hesitancy.

"Ukraine is interested in the process more than the final result... NATO membership is a pretext for integration with Europe," said Fesenko, who heads the Centre for Applied Political Research.


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