National Press Club

Ukraine President Touts Close U.S. Ties

September 30, 2008 | By Mark Schoeff Jr.

President Victor Yuschenko of Ukraine would not tell a National Press Club audience on Monday, September 29, whether he prefers Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, as the next U.S. president.

But he says he is pleased that both of them are talking about Ukraine.

The most important thing is Ukraine took on a prominent place in American politics,” Yuschenko said at a packed morning Newsmaker event in the Holeman Lounge.

One reason that Ukraine has a high profile on this side of the Atlantic is that it lives next door to an increasingly assertive Russia, which made a recent incursion into Georgia and has demonstrated a willingness to wield energy supplies as a diplomatic weapon.

The Georgia situation has created internal political turmoil in Ukraine. The country’s parliament dissolved almost two weeks ago in part over disputes about whether Georgia or Russia was the aggressor.

Yuschenko played down the military threat Russia poses to Ukraine. He is confident that Russia won’t invade, even as Ukraine hosts the Russian fleet at a Black Sea port.

But during his trip to Washington, Yuschenko emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance to ensure the country’s independence.

“NATO membership…is the highest guarantee of territorial integrity,” he said.

Peace, stability and Ukraine’s development as a democracy all depend on its membership in institutions like NATO and the European Union, according to Yuschenko.

“We are talking about sacred things,” he said. “You have to say in what coordinates your country will have eternal independence.”

He likely made the same point in a meeting with President Bush at the White House later on Monday.