NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer restated the military alliance`s desire to see Ukraine join its ranks at a high-level conference being held in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, on Thursday. In his opening speech, de Hoop Scheffer said the talks were taking place at a special moment in NATO-Ukraine relations, according to DPA.

"Let me remind you that at the Bucharest Summit earlier this year, NATO heads of state and government welcomed Ukraine`s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO and agreed that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance," he said.

He was also highly critical of Russia`s actions during and after its brief August war with Georgia.

"There can be no denying that the Russia-Georgia conflict last August has changed the European security environment," he said. "The unilateral recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia, violating basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity will not lead to the viable Euro-Atlantic security structure we seek to achieve in constructive engagement with Russia."

He added that a country`s right to freely choose its security alignments is "a principle that we will not compromise" and voiced hopes that Russia would change its mind about stationing missiles in its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves delivered a keynote address to the conference, titled "NATO-Ukraine Relations in an Evolving Security Environment."

"The fact that Ukraine is here today with NATO ministers of defence should convince everyone that NATO understands Ukraine`s importance to European security," Ilves said.

"I can assure you that NATO remains committed to the protection of Europe`s security. This is why we will never abandon democratic Ukraine - an integral pillar of the European security architecture," he asserted.

Attendees included US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who confirmed on Wednesday that the US will send a permanent specialist to a new NATO cyber-defence centre based in Tallinn.

In April 2007, Estonian servers were subjected to a huge cyber-attack. The manner in which Estonia`s cyber-defence structures coped gained the Baltic nation a reputation for excellence that resulted in NATO`s decision to base its cyber-defence facility in the Estonian capital.

Gates said "It is great credit to Estonia that the attack was turned into a success story. Now Estonia is in a leading position in the cyber-security sphere."


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