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    Accession to NATO could destabilize Ukraine - Russian minister

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    ROME, February 9 (RIA Novosti, Olga Grinkrug) - Russia's defense minister said Thursday that Ukraine could destabilize its domestic situation by joining NATO.

    "Ukraine's possible accession to NATO is a very sensitive issue. Attempts to drastically reorient [itself] towards western values could prove a major destabilization factor, above all for Ukrainian society, since a year of democratic reform has not yielded noticeable results," Sergei Ivanov, who is also a deputy prime minister, told La Stampa newspaper ahead of his visit to Rome where he is expected to take part in a Russia-NATO Council meeting, which will take place on the sidelines of the informal meeting of NATO defense ministers.

    Ivanov, however, said Cold War stereotypes had been done away with and that Russian-NATO cooperation had grown increasingly intensive.

    "A military alliance approaching your country's borders is not a pleasant thing, but it is not that dramatic today, given the new mentality," Ivanov said.

    Ukraine, Russia's western neighbor and once a close ally within the former Soviet Union, has repeatedly expressed its intention to join the alliance. Former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Khandogiy mentioned 2008 as a possible accession date.

    Speaking on Ukrainian television Thursday, a NATO official in the Ukrainian capital said that Ukraine's membership prospects would be contingent on parliamentary elections in March.

    Michel Duray, head of the NATO Information and Documentation Center in Kiev, said Ukraine and NATO had defined and prioritized five areas to undergo reform last year.

    Duray said the electoral process of the upcoming elections would have a crucial role in subsequent discussions on relations between NATO and Ukraine and their cooperation.

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