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Ukraine Intensifies Effort to Join NATO    - 2004-09-08

Ukraine says it will take steps to curb corruption and improve governance as it makes a new push to join NATO, the trans-Atlantic military alliance. The issue came up during a visit to London by Ukrainian Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk.

In an address on Ukrainian defense issues, Mr. Marchuk said his country seeks broader support among NATO countries for Ukraine to join the alliance.

"Without an intensified dialogue on progressing towards membership, we may lose some of the political momentum and public support that is so essential to the goal of NATO-Euro-Atlantic integration that remains a central objective of Ukrainian foreign policy, said Yevhen Marchuk.

Poland has been Ukraine's key advocate in the NATO councils, but many other NATO members have expressed concern about Ukraine's lack of economic reform and its autocratic government.

Speaking at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, Mr. Marchuk admitted Ukraine must make some major reforms.

"We do only have a fledgling market economy with a limited financial infrastructure and inevitably, serious corruption and governance problems," he said. "We are aware of the scale of the issues and we are attempting to tackle them."

The defense minister said Ukraine will cut the size of its armed forces from 350,000 members to 200,000 by the end of next year as it restructures its defense establishment.

During a question-and-answer session that followed his speech, Mr. Marchuk played down a report issued by the European Parliament that next month's presidential election in Ukraine may not meet European standards of fairness.

Mr. Marchuk said there will be 10 times as many international observers than at previous Ukrainian elections, and he said judgments should be withheld until after the voting.