Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 17:50 UK

Ukraine pushes for Nato schedule

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko  in front of Nato and Ukrainian flags
Viktor Yushchenko has made Nato membership a priority

Ukraine hopes to be approved as a candidate for membership of Nato by the end of the year, its president said while hosting a top Nato delegation.

Nato chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer encouraged Ukraine, but said it still needed to bring in reforms.

He also said the matter was one for Nato to decide, and should not be influenced by a "third party" - an apparent reference to Russia.

However, some Ukrainians joined protests in Kiev against Nato entry.

"We very much hope that a positive decision will be taken this year," President Viktor Yushchenko said.

Nato foreign ministers are set to meet in December.

Mr De Hoop Scheffer, the Nato secretary general, and representatives of the 26 Nato member states are in Ukraine on a two-day tour.

Protesters against Nato in Kiev, Ukraine
Among some Ukrainians there is still deep hostility to Nato

He tried to reassure the Ukrainian people, many of whom are opposed to an alliance with the West.

"[Membership] does not mean Nato bases on Ukrainian soil... It does not mean any Ukrainian soldier will be forced to take part in Nato's operations or missions. That's a myth, a big myth and let me debunk that myth in your presence today," he said.

Mr Yushchenko echoed the sentiment, saying: "We must rid ourselves of myths and legends which, for nearly 60 years, were imposed on us by the front page of Pravda".

His reference to the Soviet newspaper comes in the wake of Russian warnings that Ukraine will face serious consequences if it pushes ahead with its Nato ambitions.

On Monday, a Russian arms producer said Russia was to replace Ukrainian-made engines in its cruise missiles with local ones, Reuters news agency reported.

Close to Russia

As Mr De Hoop Scheffer met President Yushchenko, riot police stood outside, where several hundred people held anti-Nato protests.

The Nato delegation is also likely to come face-to-face with such dissent as it holds public meetings in a number of cities across the country, says the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Ukraine.

Opinion polls consistently suggest that more than half of Ukrainians have a deeply negative view of Nato.

In eastern parts of Ukraine Russian is the most commonly spoken language, and much of the population there feels close links with Moscow.

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