VILNIUS - Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, who recently made a controversial statement about "freezing" Ukraine's NATO aspirations, defended his words during a recent meeting in Kiev with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus. Speaking with Yanukovich on Nov. 15, Adamkus asked the prime minister to explain his statement and Ukraine's "vague stance on NATO membership."
"I told the prime minister that if [Ukraine] wanted to join NATO, he should say this in a clear manner," the Lithuanian president said. "Yanukovich replied that the people of Ukraine could not understand and did not see accession to NATO as necessary."
Adamkus said he told Yanukovich that it was his duty to speak to the Ukrainian people about NATO accession if he believed in the idea.
"I can say that [from Yanukovich] there was no opposition to NATO accession plans, however my doubts of sincere aspiration to join the Alliance were not dispelled," the Lithuanian president noted.
After speaking with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who has fervently promoted NATO accession, the speaker of Parliament and other politicians, Adamkus said the overall outlook on NATO accession was positive.
During his September visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Yanukovich announced that Kiev would "temporarily freeze" Yushchenko's plans for NATO integration due to low support from the Ukranian population. The statement angered the reformist president Yushchenko, who retorted in sharp criticism.
The president reminded the prime minister that, just one month earlier, both of them signed the so-called declaration of national unity, in which they subscribed to seek NATO membership as one of the country's key foreign-policy priorities.
But according to the latest polls, a mere 15-20 percent of Ukranians support NATO membership.
Indeed, recent events in the area have not cast a complementary light on NATO.
In June 2006 a normally scheduled NATO partnership for peace operation in Crimea was marred by fierce protests. Angry locals reportedly bombarded U.S. marines, who had arrived to install showers and toilets for the event, shouting "Occupiers go home!" in fits of rage. The heated scene forced the marines to stay in their barracks. Several days later, the pro-Russian Crimean Parliament declared Crimea a "NATO-free territory."
The cool-down in NATO-Ukrainian relations was further demonstrated when a meeting between the NATO-Ukrainian council, scheduled for the upcoming summit in Riga, was officially cancelled.
Adamkus arrived in Kiev on Nov. 14 for a three-day state visit, marking the 15th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.