Ukraine will push ahead with efforts to join the European Union and Nato military alliance despite Wednesday’s collapse of Kyiv’s pro-western coalition, President Viktor Yushchenko said on Thursday.

In an interview with the Financial Times Mr Yushchenko suggested Russia had helped to fuel the political crisis. Asked whether he had evidence to back the claim, he said his one-time ally Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had held talks with “forces abroad”. “This not a purely Ukrainian product,” he said, referring to the coalition split.

Mr Yushchenko said Ukraine would nevertheless stick to its pro-western foreign policy and overcome its third political crisis since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Speaking hours before US Vice-President Dick Cheney arrived in Kyiv on the last leg of a mission to reassure leaders in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine of US support after last month’s Russia-Georgia conflict, Mr Yushchenko said “there could be only minimal” delays to Ukraine’s foreign policy goals. Those included efforts to ink a closer partnership agreement with the EU next week and kick-start the Nato membership process.

Mr Yushchenko said Ukraine had made irreversible strides in building its democracy in recent years. A “democratic” solution between rival parties would be found. “This is a political battle for power. It’s a test. We will come out stronger. There will be no tanks rolling out,” he said.

Ukraine’s latest political crisis erupted on Wednesday after Ms Tymoshenko’s camp sided with the communists and the pro-Moscow bloc of ex-premier Victor Yanukovich in a move to curtail the president’s powers. Mr Yushchenko said it was an attempt to monopolise power in the hands of Ms Tymoshenko, whom he suspects of seeking Moscow’s backing for her presidential ambitions.

She has denied the accusations and accused the president of sabotaging her government.

Ms Tymoshenko, who began her second stint as prime minister last December, made a fortune in the gas-trading business before going into government in the 1990s on a corruption-fighting agenda. She went on to rally support for Mr Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution that propelled him to power.

Kyiv has made progress on the economy and democracy, but has struggled to break free of Moscow’s grip and many reforms have stalled due to infighting in the pro-western camp.

Distrust between Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko was high from the outset. But now their partnership seems finally over as both prepare to square off for the presidency in a contest that kicks off in 2009.

Despite the political paralysis, Mr Yushchenko, a strong backer of Georgia in its standoff with Russia, said Kiev would remain a reliable partner for western efforts to build regional stability.

He said the Black Sea region was volatile, adding that the Georgia war showed how frozen conflicts could erupt into hostility. He said he was uneasy about the Russian Black Sea fleet, which is based on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Russia’s use of warships stationed there against Georgia “demonstrates how easily Ukraine can be dragged into a conflict”, he said.

Referring to what he described as the vacuum of collective security in the Black Sea region, Mr Yushchenko urged western leaders to support his country’s swift integration into the European Union and Nato. “Only collective security” can bring stability to the region, he said adding “Nato is the only choice”.

Mr Yushchenko said that even if a new coalition was formed with the inclusion of pro-Moscow parties whose public platforms opposed EU and Nato, support for these initiatives would remain strong.

The country’s political and business elite that fund most parties are increasingly in support of both EU and, to a lesser extent, Nato membership. As one example, he pointed to Rinat Akhmetov, the country’s richest billionaire, who is currently a lawmaker in the Moscow-friendly faction led by Mr Yanukovich.

By Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv, The Financial Times