• Nato spoke to press after an emergency meeting with Ukraine's ambassador (Photo: nato.int)

Rasmussen: Ukraine free to seek Nato membership

29.08.14 @ 15:00

  1. By Andrew Rettman and Valentina Pop

BRUSSELS - Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said Ukraine is free to pursue membership of the Western alliance despite Russian opposition.

He told press in Brussels on Friday (29 August): “I’m not going to interfere in political discussions in Ukraine. But let me remind you of Nato’s decision at the Bucharest summit in 2008, according to which Ukraine ‘will become a member of Nato,’ provided of course, Ukraine so wishes and fulfills the necessary criteria”.

“We adhere to the principle that each and every country has the right to decide [its foreign and security policy] for itself without interference from the outside”.

Rasmussen spoke after an emergency meeting of Nato ambassadors with Ukraine’s envoy to the Western bloc.

He also spoke after Ukraine PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk earlier on Friday promised to pass a bill to scrap Ukraine’s non-aligned status. Yatsenyuk said the move is due to Russian “aggression” and would “resume” his country’s “course for Nato membership”.

Rasmussen noted Ukrainian accession was not discussed at Friday’s meeting.

But he corroborated Kiev’s allegations the Russian army has invaded south-east Ukraine: “Russian forces are engaged in direct military operations inside Ukraine … This defies all efforts for a peaceful solution”, he said.

He added that some Nato states Friday pledged funds to build up Ukraine military logistics, command and control capabilities, cyber-defence capacities, and medical care for wounded soldiers.

He also said the Nato summit in Wales next week, to be attended by Ukraine leader Petro Poroshenko, “will address how we will enhance our co-operation with Ukraine”.

Despite the 2008 Bucharest declaration, there is little appetite inside Nato for Ukraine, or other aspirants, such as Georgia or Montenegro, to move closer to membership in the current security climate.

Germany and France in 2008 blocked a decision to give Ukraine and Georgia a so-called Membership Action Plan, a first step to joining Nato, despite US pressure to go ahead.

The US and Germany this week said they are ready to fight for Nato members such as Estonia or Latvia in line with the alliance’s Article V on mutual defence.

But US leader Barack Obama on Thursday made clear once again that “we are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem”. German chancellor Angela Merkel last week said Ukraine's Nato membership "is not on the agenda".

Economic sanctions

For their part, EU foreign ministers meeting in Milan on Friday and Saturday will discuss whether to impose further economic sanctions on Russia.

EU leaders in Brussels on Saturday will then decide how to go ahead, after hearing from Ukrainan President Poroshenko who is to join them late in the afternoon.

France, Germany, Italy, and the UK, as well as Nordic and Baltic states, have spoken out in strong terms on Russia’s latest escalation.

Going into the Milan meeting on Friday, Denmark’s foreign minister said: “It’s not that I think sanctions will solve all the problems. It’s that I think we [the EU] cannot allow such Russian steps without a reaction”.

But other member states, including Hungary and Slovakia, have questioned whether EU sanctions are doing anything to stop the Kremlin.

Some EU diplomats meeting in Brussels on Thursday said EU institutions should do an “impact assessment” of the sanctions war on EU economies before going further. France, despite its rhetoric, is also wary of reopening the discussion on whether to deliver €1.2bn of warships to Russia.

An EU diplomat told this website EU leaders are unlikely to agree on concrete steps immediately. “The most likely result [of the EU summit] is for leaders to task the EEAS [the EU foreign service] and the EC [the European Commission] with preparing new sanctions”, the source said.

’Video games’

Meanwhile, the latest Nato and EU statements on the crisis continued to meet with Russian ridicule.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Friday congratulated the "Militia of Novorossiya" for its "great success" in fighting Ukraine forces, using a term - "New Russia" - which refers to a territorial claim on east and south Ukraine.

His foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told press in Moscow that allegations of Russian military activity in Ukraine are "wild guesses ... facts have never been presented so far".

He described Nato satellite images of Russian armour inside Ukraine as "images from video games".