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NATO IS UNLIKELY TO OFFER MEMBERSHIP TO UKRAINE AT VILNIUS TALKS, EXPERTS IN RUSSIA SAY

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MOSCOW, April 20 (RIA Novosti) - It is highly unlikely that NATO will offer membership to Ukraine at the April 21 informal foreign ministerial meeting in Vilnius, argues Sergei Rogov, Director of the Russian Institute of the United States and Canada. The Russian Foreign Minister is to join his Ukrainian and NATO counterparts for tomorrow's meeting.

Speaking at a press conference on the RIA premises Wednesday, Mr Rogov pointed out that despite persistent rumors about the possibility of Ukraine and several other former Soviet republics getting invitations to join NATO at the Vilnius meeting, there was a slim chance of that happening.

According to the expert, U.S. President George W. Bush is a cautious and prudent man. So although he has applauded the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and criticized Russia for meddling in Ukrainian affairs, the U.S. leader will not put his relationship with the Kremlin at risk by having NATO take Ukraine onboard now, Mr Rogov said. In theory, Russia has much more value as a partner of the U.S. and NATO than Ukraine or Georgia do, he added.

"In issues such as the fight against terrorism, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the stabilization of the situation in Central Asia and the Middle East, Russia may prove a great deal more helpful than Ukraine and Georgia as NATO members," pointed out Mr Rogov.

As he sees it, Russia and the U.S. remain determined to strengthen their bilateral partnership. This week's visit to Moscow by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President George Bush's forthcoming visit for 60th V-E anniversary celebrations give grounds to predict that in the next four years, the White House and the Kremlin will build a stable partnership, Mr Rogov said. He conceded, however, that U.S.-Russian political dialogue had lost much of the momentum given to it by the 9/11 attacks. He said he was hopeful that Rice's and Bush' Moscow visits would bring new substance into the relationship between their country and Russia. If they fail to do so, the relationship won't make any headway, he warned.

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