Ukraine`s new prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, on Tuesday (5 September) opened a fresh chapter in post-Orange Revolution EU relations by sidelining Kiev`s former target of EU accession to focus on internal reform, according to EU Observer.
"The new government sees its task in becoming a player which is strong, self-sufficient, and therefore interesting to Brussels instead of a role played by Ukraine until now – the role of a beggar in the EU negotiations," he told parliament after the summer break.
The 56-year old pro-Russian politician was toppled by Orange Revolution protestors after bogus elections in 2004 but won "free and fair" elections this year before surviving three months of coalition wrangling to take up his job.
The prime minister reassured Brussels that EU "integration" remains a "strategic goal" of Ukraine, which "will do everything to harmonize the legislation of Ukraine with EU legislation."
But his speech did not echo Kiev`s previous pleas for EU entry or discuss the controversial prospect of NATO membership, with most of the address devoted to taxation and anti-corruption reforms.
"The time when mostly declarative slogans prevailed in the euro-integration rhetoric of Ukraine should be left in the past," Mr Yanukovych said, adding that "a special place will be assigned to the restoration of a mutually advantageous good neighbourhood with Russia."
The new prime minister also pledged his "firm intentions to provide a stable supply of energy to Ukraine and through Ukraine to the EU" after securing Moscow`s agreement in August to keep Ukraine gas prices stable until 2008.
Mr Yanukovych will on 14 September visit Brussels to reassure EU officials that Kiev will not backslide on EU "action plan" commitments on economic and judicial reform, with the pair currently drafting a new bilateral treaty to govern relations after 2008.
The European Commission has given Mr Yanukovych a cautious welcome, saying that he was democratically elected the second time around and that it is too early to judge how his pro-EU and pro-Russian rhetorical balancing act will play out in real terms.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating," a commission spokeswoman told EUobserver on Monday. "Mr Yanukovych wasn`t elected on an anti-EU ticket. We hope we will continue to work with a government that is keen to pursue reforms in line with the action plan."
She added that "Ukraine doesn`t have to choose between Russia and Europe, it needs good relations with both."
According to EU Observer, The new Kiev has already passed one test on EU commitments in an area of sensitive EU-Russia relations by declaring support for the EU border monitoring mission in Transdniestria and saying it will not recognise the region`s pro-independence referendum on 17 September.
Russia has repeatedly called for Ukraine and the EU border guards, which have headquarters in Odessa, to lift their "economic blockade" on the steel-rich, breakaway Moldovan republic.
Moscow is also planning to send election monitors to the 17 September poll, Moldovan diplomats say, despite the fact that Moldova, the EU and the rest of the international community have declared it to be illegitimate.
Mr Yanukovych`s cool take on Ukraine-EU relations fits in with the climate of enlargement fatigue inside the EU itself, with Brussels and EU member states declining to insert a clause that "the EU recognises the European aspirations" of Ukraine in the draft post-2008 treaty.
"Ukraine is part of the European Neighbourhood Policy which doesn`t have any phrase or paragraph on accession. It doesn`t address it at all," the commission spokeswoman stated.