Ukraine hints may back Russian missile shield plan
MOSCOW, July 9 (Reuters) Pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko suggested in an interview published today that Ukraine might be interested in joining one day a Russian plan for a joint missile defence system with the United States and Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wants to prevent elements of any US missile defence system being deployed in the Czech Republic and Poland, proposed last week the creation of an international missile defence system instead.
Putin told US President George W Bush at their meeting last week the joint system could use instead Russian radars in the south of the country and in Azerbaijan to detect missile launches. He invited all European nations to join.
''Let me, on behalf of the Ukrainian state, say that we view positively any system which would broaden the possibilities of collective security,'' Yushchenko told the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta when asked about Putin's counter-proposals.
''We understand that at a specific time and in a specific format, Ukraine's possibilities will, naturally, be taken into account. But talks now are taking place at another level.'' Putin has said US plans to deploy a radar system in the Czech Republic and missiles in Poland had nothing to do with the formal aim of the missile shield -- protecting the West from missile attacks from states like Iran.
The Kremlin leader, who describes U.S. missile defence plans in Europe as a threat to Russia's security and a violation of a strategic balance of forces, had initially proposed using Qabala radar leased by Russia in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan.
He broadened his proposals to include European states at talks with Bush in Maine after Washington showed no inclination to give up its plans in Poland and the Czech republic.
The United States has not asked Ukraine, an ex-Soviet republic of 47 million people seen by Russia as a sphere of its interests, to play any role in its proposed scheme.
Yushchenko said the issue of security for Ukraine, Russia and Europe at large would eventually come under discussion.
''We need to draw up a model of security which would meet the needs of all, or most, of those taking part in the process.'' Yushchenko, elected in 2004 in the aftermath of the ''Orange Revolution'', has repeatedly found himself at odds with Moscow on issues like gas prices, border demarcation and his ex-Soviet state's relations with the West.
He sees long-term membership of the European and NATO as key policy planks, while Moscow views with suspicion any expansion of the Atlantic alliance to former Soviet states on its borders.
Surveys show limited Ukrainian support for NATO membership and Yushchenko says the alliance must improve its image.
The president's rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, back in office after losing the 2004 election, told NATO last year that Ukraine could not embark on fast-track membership.