Prague, 13 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said yesterday that any decision on NATO enlargement should take into account his country�s security interests.
Also yesterday, Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas said at a high-level national defense meeting that next year defense expenditures will be nearly doubled.
And Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkav yesterday told a group of visiting U.S. officials that his country is determined to pursue its goal of joining NATO, assuming that the process of the Alliance�s enlargement remains open, and that the first candidates admitted would not be the last.
The coincidence of these statements is not accidental. They seem to have reflected widespread recognition that NATO�s expansion in the East has become inevitable, that decisions on who will be accepted and when are probably set, and that the move will be announced in a clearly foreseeable future.
Recent remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac have indicated that the announcement is likely to be made early next year. The three statements also seem to suggest that neither Ukraine nor the Baltic states expect to be among the most likely candidates for the earliest acceptance. But they all insist that the process should remain open.
Ukraine�s position has been constant. Aware that it has no realistic chance of joining the Western alliance in the near future, Kyiv has, nonetheless, accepted the inevitability of NATO�s eastward expansion. But Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly argued that expansion should be gradual, and should take into account security interests of other countries in the region -- that is Ukraine's interests above all. This reflects concern that Ukraine could find itself squeezed between NATO and a Russia-dominated security alliance of post-Soviet states.
Kyiv seems to prefer a prolonged existence of a broad "gray sphere" between separate security systems that would presumably include several Central European countries and Ukraine. The longer that exists, the better it is for Ukraine, as it increases its chances of effective rapprochement with the West, with which it will continue to expand various cooperative contacts.
Meeting several months ago with NATO General Secretary Javier Solana, Kuchma emphasized that "although Ukraine does not intend to move into NATO, it does intend to move toward NATO." Yesterday, he reiterated this view to a delegation of Norwegian parliamentarians by stressing that Ukraine was among the first states to join the alliance�s "Partnership for Peace" program. And he said that his country is determined to remain active in that program as well as in other NATO-sponsored activities.
The Baltic countries� hopes of an early entry into NATO have been seriously undermined by repeated Western suggestions that any move toward expansion would have to preceded by an agreement with Russia on security in Europe. Russia has consistently and vehemently opposed the inclusion of the Baltic states into the Western alliance.
Brazauskas� announcement of the forthcoming increase in defense expenditures seem to reflect his government�s worries about security. But the more important indication of the Baltics concerns has been their insistence that the process of expansion should remain open after the first candidates are accepted and integrated into the alliance�s structures and operations.
This was strongly intimated in Birkavs� remarks to the visiting senior American officials representing the Department of State and the National Security Council. This concern has also been reflected in recent statements by Lithuania�s conservative opposition leader Vytautas Landsbergis.
Landsbergis said at a press conference in Vilnius at the beginning of this week that the Baltic states should insist that the West confirms the principle of continuing openness of NATO's enlargement process. He reiterated this stance in a speech at a meeting in the Polish capital Warsaw two days ago by saying that even a tacit abrogation of the principle of openness would be tantamount to the abandonment of the Baltic area by the West to Russia�s "sphere of influence." Landsbergis is considered a likely candidate for Lithuania�s prime minister in case of a change in parliamentary majority.
Birkavs was quoted by the Baltic News Agency as saying yesterday, shortly after his meeting with the American officials, that he was assured that the principle of openness remained valid. The agency also quoted U.S. State Department official Marshall Adair as telling the Latvians that "the main pillar of (the European security system) is NATO, and the door to this organization will remain open."