Protests in Crimea against NATO have cast a shadow over Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s hopes of his country’s eventual membership of the alliance. It has been a long-standing policy despite significant opposition, particularly on the peninsula. The region’s autonomous parliament, following the lead of local councils in the area, voted to declare Crimea a NATO-free territory.
For Yushchenko the vote was symbolic and changed little. The principle of good relations between Ukraine and NATO remained untouched, he said. Local people made their feelings clear when a contigent of US marines arrived to prepare for “Sea Breeze 2006” – joint Ukraine/Nato naval manouevres. Their protests paid dividends and some of the marines set up in Alushta were withdrawn.
But this not the first time naval exercises involving western and former Warsaw pact states have taken place on the Black Sea. Former Cold War enemies have been cooperating in this way since 1997 under the so-called “Partnership for Peace” programme.
As the prospect of NATO membership gets closer people across Ukraine are growing increasingly restive. Polls show most are opposed to the idea. In Crimea the majority is pro-Russian and the city of Sevastapol is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Here, the possible creation of a permanent US base is being greeted with open hostility.