Russia warns Ukraine over NATO expansion in the east
RUSSIA issued its strongest warning yet against Nato's eastward expansion, saying that membership for Ukraine and Georgia would mean a "colossal geopolitical shift."
The warning was made as anti-Nato protests spread to Kiev from the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea, where joint military exercises with Nato members are due to be held this month and next.
"We have said more than once that every country has the right to take sovereign decisions on who will be its partner in the international arena," Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, told the Duma.
"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."
The Duma also unanimously passed a resolution warning Kiev that joining Nato would damage ties with Moscow.
Analysts said that Russia was trying to foment already widespread opposition to Nato membership within Ukraine to undermine Viktor Yushchenko, the President who led the Orange Revolution in 2004.
Ukraine is supposed to host "Tight Knot" exercises with Britain from June 14 and "Sea Breeze" exercises with the US and other Nato members and partners from July 17.
But the arrival of 200 US Marine reservists in Crimea last week provoked small but passionate anti-Nato protests, which threaten to scupper Ukraine's chance of joining.
Ukraine's parliament was due to vote yesterday on Mr Yushchenko's request to allow foreign troops to join the exercises, but decided to adjourn until June 14.
The leaders of the Orange Revolution requested this so they could continue coalition talks that have been going on since parliamentary elections in March.
If those talks fail, Mr Yushchenko may struggle to muster enough support for the military exercises to go ahead. (© The Times, London)