Ukraine`s new prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, says he wants to stop the disputes between Kiev and Moscow over such key issues as NATO membership and the price of gas supplies from Russia, according to an interview in the official Russian newspaper, AFP reports.

      "We need to stop quarreling with our neighbors and learn to have respectful discussions," Yanukovych told the Russian government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Saturday. He added that Russia was "an important partner" for Ukraine`s new government.

      "The new government is not going to foster anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine," said the leader of the pro-Moscow Regions party with its base of support in the mainly Russian-speaking east of Ukraine.

      Yanukovych has been a Moscow favorite. In 2004 Russian President Vladimir Putin backed him in Ukraine`s disputed presidential election which triggered the "orange revolution" and led ultimately to his pro-Western rival, Viktor Yushchenko, becoming president.

      The new prime minister, approved by the Ukrainian parliament on Friday, also spoke about the accord on the price of gas delivered to Ukraine, which had caused a crisis in January when Moscow cut off supplies to force Kiev to accept its prices, and which must be renegotiated regularly.

      "When Ukrainian politicians said that we must cancel the accord, they used that as a weapon in their political game," Yanukovych said, referringto Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and "orange revolution" ally of Yushchenko, and now in the opposition. "We will be capable of conducting negotiations," Yanukovych said of his government.

      He also said he remained opposed to Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in contrast to Yushchenko who wants Ukrainian membership in the western military alliance. But Yanukovych pointed out that the two political rivals had reached an agreement to put the issue of NATO membership before the voters in a referendum.

      He said he recognized that "the previous official statements from Kiev about the desire to join NATO had made Russia unhappy." But he pointed out that "the majority" of Ukrainians today are opposed to NATO membership, which is reflected in opinion polls in the former Soviet state."We will abide by their wishes," he said.

      The new prime minister also justified the presence of some opposition "orange revolution" ministers in his cabinet, stressing the need to reunite Ukraine, which has been divided between the pro-Russian east and the more nationalist west of the country.

      "The government must not serve half the country but the entire state if it is to be effective," he said.

      The news was monitored by The Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service, Morgan Williams, Editor.