The Jerusalem Post / Associated Press – 2008-02-14 00:30:32
MOSCOW (February 12, 2008) — President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia may target nuclear weapons at Ukraine if the former Soviet Republic joins the NATO military alliance.
Putin, speaking at a news conference in Moscow after four hours of talks with the Ukrainian president, said targeting Ukraine with nuclear weapons is frightening to even think about. But he said it may be necessary if the government in Kiev accepts the deployment of anti-missile defences on its territory.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko responded at the news conference by saying Ukraine has the right to form its own foreign and defence policies. However, he noted that the Ukrainian constitution does not allow for the deployment of foreign bases on its territory.
“You understand well that everything that Ukraine does in this direction is not in any way directed at any third country, including Russia,” Yushchenko said.
In Kiev, some politicians reacted strongly to Putin’s threat.
“We are an independent state and will make our decisions regardless of what others say,” said former defence minister Anatoly Grytsenko, a senior member of Yushchenko’s party.
Last month, Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Ukraine’s parliament speaker signed a formal request asking NATO to consider Ukraine’s bid for a Membership Action Plan at its meeting in Romania in early April.
The membership plan is a crucial step on the road to joining the western alliance.
NATO membership is a highly controversial issue in Ukraine, where opinion polls show that more than half the country opposes it.
The Kremlin announced Tuesday that Putin would attend the NATO meeting.
Russia has long been concerned about the alliance’s expansion into the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as former Soviet bloc countries.
© The Canadian Press, 2008
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