Ukraine's fast-track Nato membership talks have topped the agenda of the military alliance's first major meeting on former Soviet soil.
And although US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Nato foreign ministers stopped short on Thursday of setting a target entry date during their talks in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, most officials believe it is only a matter of time.
A spokesman for the transatlantic organisation added the election of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine's re-run presidential ballot last December boosted Kiev's membership chances.
"The government in Ukraine has made its aspirations clear and is in a better position to fulfil its aspirations", Nato spokesman James Appathurai said.
He added that the 26-nation bloc would offer Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk a "form of enhanced dialogue, together with a package of practical and political elements".
There have been calls for Ukraine to be given Nato membership within five years.
But alliance diplomats fear a rush towards entry could raise tensions with Russia and alienate many Ukrainians in the former Soviet republic's pro-Moscow east.
Russian political analyst Alexander Netshayev told Aljazeera.net on Thursday that Moscow was naturally concerned about Nato's expansion.
Lithuanian President Valdas
Adamkus chaired the Nato meeting
"No country in the world would like to see a military organisation expand right up to its borders.
But Ukraine's entry would also have serious implications for Russia's interests in the Crimea (an autonomous Ukraine republic where Russia bases its Black Sea fleet).
"Many Ukrainians - especially in the east of the country - do not want Kiev to join either. This looks suspiciously like a government-inspired move they believe might help gain entry to the European Union," Netshayev said.
And more concern has been raised over Rice's description on Wednesday of Nato as the "premier alliance" for strategic dialogue between Europe and the US.
Speaking to Aljazeera.net on condition of anonymity, one UK-based Ukraine analyst said Kiev's desire for security was only one part of the reason for wanting to join the trans-Atlantic alliance.
"The government, particularly the foreign minister, believes this is the best way to get them into the EU. While there is support for joining the EU, many will be very unhappy about having to close a relationship to the US. Nato membership is not popular."
But despite unease about Ukraine's defence policy and Nato's tacit criticism of Russian troop deployments in Moldova and Georgia, Moscow has said it will take part in the Vilnius talks with bloc officials.
And in a sign that relations may improve, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is to sign an accord at the Vilnius talks codifying Nato troops' transit rights through Russia.
This is widely seen as a step to make it easier for joint military exercises and a move that could ease the alliance's supply lines to its force in Afghanistan.
Nato Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the signing "a concrete milestone in practical Nato-Russia cooperation".
The proposed Status of Forces Agreement offers legal protection to Nato troops on Russian territory and similar rights to Russian forces visiting Nato nations.