MOSCOW – NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia would mean a “colossal geopolitical shift,” Russia’s foreign minister told lawmakers Wednesday after they unanimously criticized plans by the two former Soviet republics to join.
Ukraine’s pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, who beat a Kremlin-backed opponent, has made NATO membership a top priority for his nation of 47 million.
“Every country has the right to take sovereign decisions,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a speech before the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. “At the same time, the acceptance into NATO of Ukraine and Georgia will mean a colossal geopolitical shift and we assess such steps from the point of view of our interests.”
Yushchenko’s government hopes to receive an invitation to join NATO in 2008. Moscow already is smarting at the eastward enlargement of the alliance into its former Soviet bloc satellites.
Georgia, a former Soviet Caucasus Mountain state that has allied itself with the United States, also is seeking membership. Georgia and Ukraine border Russia.
State Duma lawmakers voted 435-0, with one abstention, for a resolution that criticized Ukraine’s NATO plans, saying such a step would “lead to very negative consequences for relations between our fraternal peoples.”
In Kiev, officials expressed astonishment.
“I cannot imagine how Ukraine’s integration with NATO can turn this organization into a threat to Russian security,” Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko said.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Zhirinovsky became the second Russian nationalist lawmaker in a week to be barred from Ukraine for participating in anti-NATO protests on Ukrainian territory, the State Security Service said.
The protests opposed the arrival of 200 U.S. Marine reservists to help refurbish a training facility for a Black Sea exercise in mid-July that will involve 40 countries, including many NATO member states.