Sunday, June 04, 2006

Russian Backed Anti-NATO Demonstrations Continue Against U.S. Warship In Crimean Autonomous Republic Of Ukraine

"Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko says controversial joint Ukraine-NATO military exercises will go ahead despite strong protests.

In a presidential decree, Yushchenko ordered authorities to expel foreigners accused by Kyiv of taking part in anti-NATO demonstrations in the Crimean Peninsula.

The protests by pro-Russian activists started on May 27 with the arrival of the "USS Advantage" at the port of Feodosiya."

Agence France Presse "Ukraine-NATO Exercises To Proceed Despite Protests" June 4, 2006 via Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


"Ukrainian opposition lawmakers have demanded the dismissal of the country's foreign and defense ministers, blaming them for allowing a U.S. naval ship to enter the port of Feodosiya in Crimea last week without the required parliamentary authorization.

Feodosiya residents have blockaded the port, protesting what they see as an unwelcome NATO intrusion into Ukrainian territory.

The U.S. cargo ship "Advantage" anchored in Feodosiya on May 27, bringing what Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko described as U.S. "technical aid." Seamen offloaded construction materials to build barracks for Ukrainian sailors at a training range near the town of Staryy Krym, not far from Feodosiya.

Two days later, Feodosiya residents, mobilized by local chapters of the pro-Russia Party of Regions, the Natalya Vitrenko Bloc, as well as the Russian Community of Crimea, began to picket the port. Displaying anti-NATO slogans written in Russian, they are continuing to block the U.S. cargo from getting to its destination. The BBC reported that several hundred people were present at the demonstration.

"Advantage" has also reportedly left a group of U.S. servicemen in Feodosiya to guard the unloaded cargo, but their presence has not been officially confirmed....

In a broader perspective, the Feodosiya protest may impair Ukraine's chances for a significant advance this year on its path toward NATO membership.

Some officials in Kyiv, including Foreign Minister Tarasyuk, hope that, at the NATO summit in Riga in November, Ukraine will be offered a Membership Action Plan. Action plans usually precede an official invitation to join the alliance. The outburst of anti-NATO sentiments in Feodosiya will hardly make NATO members more supportive of this advancement idea.

Sociological surveys in recent years show that Ukraine's official aspirations to join NATO are firmly supported by some 15-20 percent of Ukrainians and firmly opposed by some 55-60 percent of them.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (left) talking with Foreign Minister Tarasyuk in Brussels in April (courtesy photo)There seems to be an informal consensus at present between the administration of President Viktor Yushchenko and the opposition that Ukraine's potential NATO entry should be approved in a nationwide referendum. But opinions differ on when such a plebiscite should be held.

The Russia-leaning opposition forces would like to stage it as soon as possible, when Ukrainians are more likely to say "no" than "yes." Yushchenko says the referendum should be held in "due course" but has not specified a date.

Moscow, which officially does not object to Ukraine's NATO aspirations, would hardly remain unmoved if Kyiv was actually accepted by the alliance. Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin was quite explicit about this on May 30.

"When a neighboring country becomes a member of the North-Atlantic military bloc, then I'm sorry -- then this strategic partnership [with Russia] should be viewed from a different angle and [it should be reviewed] whether this strategic partnership relationship should continue to exist at all," Chernomyrdin said.

Making Ukrainians like NATO rather than fear it seems to be only a part of the tricky job Yushchenko has to do in order to fulfill his ambitions of Euro-Atlantic integration. A no less tricky task will be to persuade his compatriots that NATO membership for their country does not necessarily mean a disastrous break with Russia."

Jan Maksymiuk "Ukraine: U.S. Navy Stopover Sparks Anti-NATO Protests" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty June 1, 2006

Anti-NATO placards displayed during the protest in Feodosiya, Crimean Autonomous Republic, Ukraine.

Photo credit: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. With thanks.


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