Ukraine - Russian Relations remain unclear

Ukraine - Russian Relations remain unclear

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Viktor Yanukovych this weekend as soon as the Ukrainian president-elect`s challenger dropped a legal battle to block his inauguration. According to the Kremlin, the two...

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Viktor Yanukovych this weekend as soon as the Ukrainian president-elect`s challenger dropped a legal battle to block his inauguration, according to The Wall Street Journal. According to the Kremlin, the two men agreed that Mr. Yanukovych would visit Moscow in early March.

On Sunday, however, Mr. Yanukovych`s aides declined to confirm or deny anything about a visit, though his Web site posted the Kremlin announcement. Hanna Herman, a legislator and a deputy leader of Mr. Yanukovych`s Party of Regions, said the president-elect`s first priority was to form a new government and deal with domestic problems.


The call from the Kremlin on Saturday signals Russia`s interest in reasserting a preferential relationship with its former Soviet neighbor. But the reaction in Kiev leaves it unclear in which direction Mr. Yanukovych will tilt Ukraine, a country of 46 million wedged between Russia and the West.

Ukraine embraced a Western agenda after the 2004 Orange Revolution, when mass protests alleging electoral fraud overturned Mr. Yanukovych`s tainted victory in that year`s presidential election. Viktor Yushchenko won the revote and antagonized the Kremlin, which had openly backed Mr. Yanukovych, by pushing to advance negotiations to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and by supporting Georgia during its 2008 war with Russia.


In the recent campaign, the Kremlin played no favorite, and Mr. Yanukovych straddled the fence, calling for good relations with Russia and with the European Union. Ms. Herman had indicated last week that his first presidential trip abroad could be to Brussels.


The question of Mr. Yanukovych`s foreign-policy priorities could complicate his effort to form a majority in parliament and replace Yulia Tymoshenko, his bitter rival in the presidential race, as prime minister.


Ms. Tymoshenko on Saturday dropped her court challenge to the results of the Feb. 7 election, clearing the way for Mr. Yanukovych`s inauguration on Thursday. She said there was no point in pursuing the case after the Supreme Administrative Court refused to consider evidence she presented alleging vote falsification in favor of her opponent, who won by a margin of 3.48%.

As the political struggle moves to parliament, Mr. Yanukovych`s opposition Party of Regions is trying to persuade two parties in Ms. Tymoshenko`s fragile coalition to switch sides and oust her as prime minister. One of those parties, Mr. Yushchenko`s Our Ukraine bloc, is divided: Its many nationalist supporters in western Ukraine are wary of Mr. Yanukovych because he has shown himself willing to take Russia`s positions into account.


In interviews with Russian journalists last week, Mr. Yanukovych said he wouldn`t pursue NATO membership and would consider prolonging an agreement to base Russia`s Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian soil. The Kremlin also wants Ukraine to join a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, a step that could impede Kiev`s talks on a trade agreement with the European Union.


Ms. Tymoshenko met with Our Ukraine lawmakers last week in an attempt to persuade them to stick with her coalition.

If Mr. Yanukovych fails to form a majority, he has said he would call early parliamentary elections. That prospect would prolong political uncertainty and further damage Ukraine`s economy, which shrank 15% last year.


By JAMES MARSON, The Wall Street Journal

Forwarded to UNIAN by Action Ukraine Report

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