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NATO Boosts Ties with Russia, Ukraine

NATO has struck deals to increase its cooperation with Russia and Ukraine as the military alliance deepens its roots in what was once enemy territory of the old Soviet bloc.

NATO officials are hailing the new accord with Moscow that will give the alliance transit rights through Russia to support its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer calls the agreement "a milestone". Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says it is part of what he calls "substantial progress" between the alliance and Moscow.

The agreement also opens the way to joint training and military exercises between NATO and the Russian military.

In a separate accord, NATO and Ukraine signed a deal that could speed up Ukraine's drive to join the alliance. Under the plan, NATO will support democratic and military reforms in Ukraine, and an overhaul of Ukraine's defense industries.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasiuk says the new government swept to power in December's "Orange Revolution" aims for quick entry into NATO.

"Our major objective is to make the life of Ukranian citizens better, to fill the spirit of democracy and freedom," he said. "So judging on this I dare to say that Ukraine may be ready to fulfill this ambitious program of reforms, in let us say three years term, so by the year 2008."

NATO officials say they have no timetable in mind, and they stress that Ukraine bears primary responsibility for how quickly the reforms take hold.

Russia has been wary of NATO's eastward drift, but Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says Moscow will not object in Ukraine's case.

"It would be the choice of Ukraine to choose its partners, be it countries or organizations, and it's the sovereign matter of Ukraine," he said.

On other issues, the NATO foreign ministers discussed how they might support African Union peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur region. Mr. de Hoop Scheffer says NATO could lend logistical and planning support, not troops on the ground, but he stresses that no action will be taken unless the African Union asks for help.