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NATO, Russia deny 'Cold War' rift on Ukraine
Updated: 2004-12-09 00:46

BRUSSELS - Former Cold War adversaries NATO and Russia joined together on Thursday to call for a free and fair election in Ukraine after weeks of tension between Western capitals and Moscow over rigged presidential poll results.

A joint statement at a NATO meeting urged a free and fair re-run of a second round presidential ballot to end a crisis in Kiev over fraudulent results last month, which showed pro-Moscow Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich had won.

"We appealed to all parties to continue to avoid the use or instigation of violence, to refrain from intimidation of voters, and to work to ensure a free, fair electoral process that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people," the statement issued after a NATO-Russia foreign ministers' meeting said.

Ukraine election officials declared Yanukovich, who has been backed by Moscow and outgoing Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma, the winner in the Nov. 21 run-off.

Supporters of West-leaning Yushchenko flooded the streets of Kiev in the tens of thousands to protest the results, which they and international observers labeled fraudulent.

Ukraine's Supreme Court ruled the run-off results invalid and have ordered a re-run pitting Yanukovich against Yushchenko, who wants to move gradually closer to the West and sees Russia as a "strategic partner."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated accusations of western meddling to deprive Yanukovich the office. But both sides insisted there had been no confrontation and pointed to new cooperation pacts as a sign of good ties.

"While many in the media have attempted to portray these events as a return to Cold War-era confrontation between East and West, I am confident that we can prove them wrong," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.

Lavrov was equally insistent there was no row but reiterated Moscow was concerned that the ex-Soviet Republic not become an exclusive disciple of the West, whose borders have spread eastwards with the expansion of the European Union (news - web sites).

"In geo-political terms Ukraine simply cannot be only western or only eastern. It is a European country which lies both on the borders of EU and NATO and on Russia's borders," he said after he met his counterparts from the 26-member alliance, including Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The brief joint statement came two days after differences over Ukraine prevented the adoption of any final communique at a meeting in Sofia of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Ukraine parliament has passed legislative reforms aimed at ensuring a free and fair rerun of the elections on Dec. 26.

NATO called off a meeting between its foreign ministers and their Ukrainian counterpart scheduled for Thursday to distance itself from a government accused of election fraud.

NATO sources said a ministerial meeting with Ukraine, with which it has a seven-year-old partnership agreement, would be postponed until Kiev had a "new and legitimate" government.

NATO and Russia also made two long-awaited announcements at their meeting on Thursday -- a joint action plan on fighting terrorism, and the formal launch of Russian support for NATO's shipping surveillance mission in the eastern Mediterranean.

The four-page action plan contains commitments to work together prevent terrorism and to manage the consequences of terrorist acts, including the sharing of intelligence.

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