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Ukraine: NATO Chief Reflects On Ukraine-NATO Charter

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (file photo) (epa) BRUSSELS, July 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine and NATO are preparing to mark the 10th anniversary of the Ukraine-NATO Charter, which was signed on July 9, 1997. To mark the occasion, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer sat down with Ukrainian journalists in Brussels, including RFE/RL correspondent Natalia Vikulina, to discuss relations between Kyiv and the alliance.

Some may feel discouraged by the ongoing turmoil in Ukrainian politics, but de Hoop Scheffer said that to him, it is a sign the country has grown into a healthy democracy.

At the same time, he underscored that the partnership between Kyiv and the alliance has grown correspondingly.

"You now have a much more mature political debate [in Ukraine], which did not exist before," he said. "With all the consequences, I am always positive to see political debate. I'll not enter that political debate because it is not up to me to enter what is specifically Ukrainian. But, the partnership, at the same time, has grown. Mention to me one other NATO partner like Ukraine who is participating in all NATO's operations and missions. I don't know a second one."

"I say again, I'll not enter the Ukrainian debate. As I said on the video conference a moment ago, NATO is not washing powder. I'm not going to Ukraine to sell NATO. You don't sell NATO. You explain what NATO is."

MORE: Read more of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's remarks in Ukrainian at the site of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

De Hoop Scheffer said his words of praise did not mean Ukraine's leaders should rest on their laurels and he urged further changes, especially in modernizing the country's armed forces and security structures:

"I think that the essential reforms should go on. I hope they will go on -- security sector reform, defense reform, oversight of the armed forces, security sector in the wide sense that also concern the Interior Ministry troops."

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has been an ardent supporter of his country's membership in the alliance.

But opinion polls show most of his fellow-citizens remain opposed or indifferent. That contrasts with the majority of Ukrainians who would like their country to join the EU.

De Hoop Scheffer said he would not enter the domestic debate on whether Ukraine should seek NATO membership.

"I never comment on opinion poll figures, but I do know that in Ukraine, of course, this is a group who is critical on NATO membership, which is their legitimate right," he said. "I say again, I'll not enter the Ukrainian debate. As I said on the video conference a moment ago, NATO is not washing powder. I'm not going to Ukraine to sell NATO. You don't sell NATO. You explain what NATO is."

Public Opinion In Ukraine

The NATO leader did say he thought some alliance opponents in Ukraine might not be well informed about the bloc's purpose and mission.

"I think that those people who are critical [of NATO] -- and we have to work on them, and we want to assist and help in that regard, that's why we have a Kyiv office -- that they perhaps should know more and should be informed better about what NATO is, what NATO is doing," he said.

De Hoop Scheffer dismissed concerns, regularly expressed by Russia, that the alliance's eastward expansion could be seen as a threat that destabilizes security in the region.

"As a general rule, I have never seen NATO enlargement as a threat to anyone or anybody," he said. "Every nation joins NATO out of its own free will. NATO has never pressed or pressured any nation [into] joining NATO. That is based on performance, as you know, the decision, which taken by the free will of the people."

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