VILNIUS - Despite the Ukrainian prime minister's recent announcement that the country would "freeze" plans to join NATO, Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said Lithuania would continue to back Ukraine's accession and increase society's support for the bid. After a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels on Sept. 14, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich said his country was postponing its aspirations to join the alliance because society disapproved of the organization's membership goals.
"The Ukrainian government has taken public opinion into consideration, and admits to the existing problem of our people's poor support for NATO membership," Vaitiekunas told the Baltic News Service.
The foreign minister said Lithuania initially had similar problems in obtaining NATO membership, but, after a public relations program, two thirds of the public came to support the country's bid.
"Lithuania and Ukraine have already held bilateral consultations on information about NATO for the public," he stated.
The Lithuanian minister applauded Yanukovich's position that Ukraine would strengthen its cooperation with NATO.
"We approve of Yanukovich's opinion that there is no alternative to NATO," Vaitiekunas said.
Russia strongly opposed the previous Ukrainian government's intentions to join the NATO Membership Action Plan, which would gradually lead to membership in the Alliance.
Yanukovich, who is considered closer to Moscow than reform supporter President Viktor Yushchenko, has said that he wants Ukraine to be a "reliable bridge" between Europe and Russia.