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Russian victory in NATO member state row

Russia scored a major diplomatic victory over the West yesterday after Nato rejected attempts by Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance.

Nato, led by Germany and France, wilted in the face of a sustained campaign of pressure and intimidation by the Kremlin, which has argued that the two former Soviet states must stay within Moscow's sphere of influence.

The rejection represented a significant blow to US president, George W Bush, who had personally backed the proposal.

Although Vladimir Putin, the outgoing Russian president, was savouring what many observers described as the biggest foreign policy triumph of his career, the Kremlin did not get everything it wanted.

The 26 Nato leaders attending their annual summit in Bucharest pledged that both countries would "one day" be allowed to take their places in the alliance.

"We agreed today that these countries will become members of Nato,'' said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's secretary general. "That's quite something.''

Observers

While Nato foreign ministers will again consider the bids in December, most observers said that the vagueness of the verdict meant accession plans were put on hold indefinitely.

Russia has responded aggressively to any former Soviet states trying to forge closer ties with the West. It had threatened to target Ukraine with nuclear missiles if it joined Nato and warned of a major security crisis in Europe.

Russian officials had privately told western counterparts that accession for either country would trigger the worst diplomatic crisis since the Cold War.

With East-West ties at their most strained since the collapse of the Soviet Union, France and Germany agreed to mollify the Kremlin.

The alliance has already been accused of breaching its own constitution, which calls for membership to be conferred on any European democracy that wants it. Mr Bush urged his allies to commit to eventual approval for both bids.

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"Nato's doors must remain open to other nations in Europe that share our love for liberty and demonstrate a commitment for reform,'' he said.

However, the decision will ease talks between Mr Putin and Mr Bush when they meet in the Black Sea resort of Sochi at the weekend. The meeting will focus on US plans to build a missile defence shield in Europe. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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