Speaking in Kiev today on the first stop of a trip to the Black Sea region, Vice President Joe Biden backed Ukrainian membership in NATO, saying the nation had the right to choose which alliances it wanted membership in and assuring the nation that the recent attempts at rapprochement with Russia would not harm US ties with Ukraine.
The visit comes at a time when Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s popularity has reached what almost has to be a low point, with some opinion polls showing his support at as little as 2%. The President took power during the 2004 Orange Revolution, but his government has made few of the promised changes and lost the support that swept him to office.
Russia vigorously opposes Ukraine’s prospective membership in the rival NATO alliance, fearing that it would cost it the key Sevastopol naval base and place NATO forces along their common border. The Ukrainian economy is largely dependent on an open border with Russia, which officials say would not survive NATO membership.
Biden’s next stop is the Republic of Georgia, another would-be NATO member along Russia’s border. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been pressuring the US for more weapons to rebuild the military that was largely destroyed during their failed August 2008 invasion of South Ossetia. Saakashvili says that failure to provide him weapons would “encourage” a Russian invasion.
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