Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko has joined leaders of the 26-nation NATO alliance at a special summit in Brussels. Mr. Yushchenko's presence at the summit is a sign of support for his intention to move his country closer to the West.
The architect of Ukraine's "orange revolution," was swept to power after pro-democracy demonstrators forced a repeat presidential election, last December, after the first one was marred by fraud. He is eager to tighten his country's ties to western institutions, like NATO and the European Union.
Monday, during a speech calling for trans-Atlantic unity in facing global challenges, President Bush declared that Ukraine should be brought into the family of western nations.
"As a free government takes hold in that country, and as the government of President Yushchenko pursues vital reforms, Ukraine should be welcomed by the Euro-Atlantic family," said President Bush.
Mr. Yuschenko is especially intent on beginning membership talks with the European Union in 2007, even though he realizes that it may take more than a decade for his country to actually join the bloc. The union has offered closer ties, but has been non-committal about holding out the prospect of membership to Ukraine.
Mr. Yushchenko is more cautious about Ukraine becoming a full member of NATO. On a visit to Croatia, last week, he told reporters Ukranian society is not ready to become part of an alliance that was vilified for decades by Ukraine's Soviet leaders as an instrument of American imperialism. Polls have shown that fully one-third of Ukraine's people are against NATO membership for their country.
NATO, too, wants to tread carefully in opening up to Ukraine, which is already a member of a NATO program that fosters closer ties with former communist states. But NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Tuesday pledged to help Ukraine take what he called its "rightful place" in Europe.
"NATO's role was and is to defend essential values: democracy, freedom, the rule of law," said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "And, just two months ago, the world watched as the people of Ukraine demonstrated their firm commitment to the democratic values that underpin both the North Atlantic alliance and the NATO-Ukraine distinctive partnership."
Mr. Yuschchenko says Ukraine will strive to meet the norms expected of Euro-Atlantic countries.
"The most important task for the new government of Ukraine will be to bring political, social, economic and defensive systems of the state in full compliance with the Euro-Atlantic standards," said Viktor Yuschchenko. "We want every citizen of the country to see the advantage of these standards.
NATO has announced a 12-year program to help Ukraine destroy millions of surplus weapons left over from Soviet times. The alliance is billing the program as the biggest demilitarization effort in the world.