KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s new president, accused by opponents of moving the country into Moscow’s orbit, outlined a foreign policy bill on Tuesday that ditches his predecessor’s aim to join NATO but keeps EU membership as a long-term goal.
President Viktor Yanukovich’s draft foreign policy law would commit Ukraine to “a non-bloc policy which means not participating in military-political alliances,” a clear effort to show he is trying to steer between East and West.
Yanukovich, who came to power three months ago, is anxious to assert Ukraine’s non-aligned status after several agreements with Russia left him open to criticism by political opponents that he was dancing to Moscow’s tune.
Ukraine would strive for integration “into European political, economic and legal space with the aim of securing membership of the European Union,” the draft law said.
Russia will be pleased by his decision to abandon pursuit of membership in NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance, although the law said cooperation with the bloc would continue, meaning Ukraine’s forces would still take part in NATO exercises.
Yanukovich told a meeting of security officials that Russia and Ukraine would continue their “strategic partnership.”
The draft law balanced this however by saying pursuit of similar relations with the United States remained “an important direction” of foreign policy.
Yanukovich came under fire from opponents for extending the Russian navy’s stay in a Ukrainian Black Sea port until 2042 in return for cheaper gas -- a move they said confirmed suspicions he would tilt Ukraine back toward its old Soviet master.
But though he has taken NATO membership off the agenda, Yanukovich has also declined an invitation by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to join the Russia-led CSTO security grouping.
The draft law should easily pass through the Yanukovich-controlled parliament.
Yanukovich’s pro-Western predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, pursued NATO membership ardently in his five years in power.
The idea has never won broad support from Ukrainians and though NATO promised Ukraine it would be able to join at some point in the future it held back from putting Kiev on a fast-track to membership.
Writing by Richard Balmforth; editing by Peter Graff