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Yanukovych says 'no' to missile defense

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) shakes hands with newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich before their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, 2010. UPI/Alex Natin.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) shakes hands with newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich before their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, 2010. UPI/Alex Natin. | License Photo

STRASBOURG, France, June 23 (UPI) -- Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych says his country isn't going to take part in a new European missile defense system backed by NATO nor join the bloc itself.

Yanukovych, speaking to reporters Tuesday in Strasbourg, France, following the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said Ukraine remains "a non-aligned nation" and rejected the country's involvement in the European anti-missile system.

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"Our position remains unchanged: We have been, are, and will be a non-aligned nation, as it is defined in the law on domestic and foreign policy," Yanukovych said.

NATO last November invited Russia and Ukraine to be part of its retooled missile shield in Europe during its Lisbon summit. Yanukovych was seen by some analysts to be wavering on his anti-missile position but he threw cold water on that speculation in Strasbourg.

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"We were not going, are not going, and, I am sure, will not be going to participate in the development of that system," his official presidential Web site quoted him as saying.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama reached a deal with NATO allies on a largely sea-based European anti-missile system, replacing a land-based package favored by the Bush administration that was fiercely opposed by Moscow.

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NATO says the new system is meant to counter threats from Iran and, with Russian participation, would use lighter and shorter-range missiles. Moscow, however, still regards the effort with suspicion, fearing it is meant to undermine its nuclear parity with the West and has warned of a new arms race.

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Ukraine, meanwhile, has been wooed by NATO to join in the missile defense efforts.

When NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen visited Ukraine in February for the first time, he spoke of the benefits to Kiev of fuller cooperation with the alliance.

Although Kiev and NATO agreed earlier to set up an expert group to assess the pros and cons of a European missile defense shield, some analysts contend this was only a delaying tactic by Ukraine to allow it time to assess how Russia would move on the offer.

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After noting that Ukraine "was the first of our partners to contribute to all our operations," such as participating in anti-terrorism navy patrols in the Mediterranean and sending troops sent to Afghanistan and Kosovo, Rasmussen said signing on for the missile defense project would deepen Kiev's ties to Europe.

"Ukraine has … expressed an interest in cooperating on missile defense. And while we in NATO are still at an early stage in our own work on this issue, we are ready to discuss possible cooperation with your country in that area as well," Rasmussen said.

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Instead of signing on to a new anti-missile system, Ukraine's approach to European security under the 16-month-old presidency of Viktor Yanukovych mirrors that of Russia -- it favors a new continental security architecture that would subsume the roles of NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Yanukovych said last year he's "ready to take active part" in discussing the proposal of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for a new European Security Treaty, introduced by Moscow after the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

Medvedev says the new treaty would address the "fragmentation" of European security in the face of efforts by NATO to expand to include former Soviet bloc nations such as Ukraine.

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