Yushchenko to focus on Russian ties

The victor of Ukraine's presidential election, pro-West opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, has held out an olive branch to Russia but said it would take time to rebuild relations.

    Yushchenko will vie for Ukraine's EU and Nato membership

    The leader of Ukraine's so-called "orange revolution", who won Sunday's election runoff against Moscow-backed rival Viktor Yanukovich, told Russia's influential Izvestia daily on Tuesday that he would make his first trip as president to Moscow.

    "We can and we must turn a page on this if we are friends and prepared to look each other in the eye. We can forget how Moscow was filled with Yanukovich posters," he said.

    But Yushchenko, who repeated his accusation that elements of the Moscow-backed government in Kiev were behind his mysterious dioxin poisoning before the election, said Russia's interference in the poll would not be quickly forgotten.

    He said he had no intention of making Russian an official second language in the strategic country of 48 million people, which is divided between Russian and Ukrainian speakers.

    But he also promised "no Russian school will be closed under my administration".

    Yanukovich has blasted US
    interference in Ukrainian affairs

    "Kiev has to say openly that Russia is our close neighbour, our strategic partner, and we need to integrate with it, but the Western market interests us and it does not contradict our relations with Moscow," he told another Russian paper, Rossiskaya Gazeta.

    Moscow has angrily accused Western democracies of double standards and meddling in its backyard in a new cold war-style struggle for influence in the former Soviet bloc in eastern Europe.

    The West backed allegations of massive fraud which forced an earlier runoff claimed by Yanukovich to be annulled, while Moscow immediately recognised the prime minister's contested win.

    Yushchenko's victory means he will pursue his goal of obtaining membership for Ukraine of the European Union and the US-led Nato military alliance. The Kremlin-friendly Yanukovich had promised to focus on ties with Russia.

    Legal challenge

    Yanukovich for his part blasted the United States for interfering in Ukrainian affairs, and vowed to contest parliamentary elections in 2006.

    "The American influence in the Ukrainian elections was systematic and planned. Concerning the Russian role you can say it was spontaneous and without any preparation," he told Izvestia.

    European observers said there
    were no major poll irregularities

    "We are going to form a tough opposition. We will obtain a majority in parliament [in 2006] and this way we will put pressure on Yushchenko."

    Yanukovich, who scored 44.13% compared to Yushchenko's 52.07% according to near-final results, has complained of more fraud in the latest election and has vowed to mount a legal challenge.

    However, European observers have said there were no major irregularities.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has said nothing so far about Sunday's election result, in contrast to his hasty congratulations to Yanukovich after the cancelled
    21 November runoff.

    But Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday that he did not believe Yushchenko's victory would have serious implications for Moscow's close military ties with Kiev.

    "I think that there will not be any big change in our cooperation with our neighbour Ukraine in the sphere of defence and security," he said, amid concerns in some quarters in Moscow about the future of Russia's Black Sea fleet, based at the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.



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