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Ukraine to join in NATO's anti-piracy mission

BRUSSELS - Ukraine is to take part in NATO's anti-piracy operation in the Indian Ocean, the alliance's secretary general announced Friday, ahead of talks between NATO defence ministers and their new Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Lebedev.

At the meeting, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was also expected to warn Kiev to respect democracy and the rule of law, while praising the country's previous contributions to NATO missions, including in Afghanistan.

"I have just received an exchange of letters in which Mr Lebvedev confirms Ukraine's participation in NATO's anti-piracy mission," Rasmussen said.

Kiev is to offer a frigate and a helicopter for operation Open Shield in the second half of 2013, a NATO official said. The mission was launched in 2009 to deter pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa.

The military alliance still had to certify however "that the Ukrainian contribution is capable of operating effectively with NATO vessels," the official added.

Rasmussen said NATO was committed to supporting reform efforts in Ukraine, urging Kiev to respect fundamental rights.

"The determined implementation of reform to reinforce democracy and the rule of law would benefit the people of Ukraine and the whole Euro-Atlantic community," Rasmussen said.

The defence ministers were also due to meet with their non-NATO allies participating in Afghanistan's ISAF mission, as it prepares to withdraw combat operations by the end of 2014.

From 2015, follow-on operation Resolute Support is to train and support Afghan security forces. It is expected to consist of the 28 NATO members and 10 additional countries, sources said, but all eyes are on the United States to gauge the scale of the operation.

Washington is thought to be mulling a far lower troop size than initially expected, with figures said to be in the region of thousands, rather than tens of thousands.

On Thursday, Rasmussen confirmed that NATO was considering plans to maintain 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police in the country until 2018. Funding plans presently anticipate a reduction in numbers after 2014.

No decisions were expected in Brussels, where the US was represented by outgoing Defence Secretary Leon Panetta due to delays in the nomination of his successor, Chuck Hagel.

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