NATO reaffirms close ties with Ukraine

NATO defense ministers on Thursday reaffirmed the alliance's commitment to assist Ukraine in its goal of joining the military bloc, a move likely to further strain the West's relations with Russia. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the meeting with Ukrainian defense officials was "productive" but that Ukraine still faced numerous obstacles before it could become a NATO member. "It's clear that ... Ukraine still has some distance to go in being ready for membership in the alliance," he said. Ukrainian leaders need to bolster public support for NATO membership and address budget constraints for financing military reform, Gates said.