Ukraine PM aims to be a `Euro-pragmatist`

10:35, 14 September 2006
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He seeks to show that he can cooperate

Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine`s new prime minister, will today seek to dispel doubts about his commitment to deepening ties with the west and show that he can co-operate with President Viktor Yushchenko, his former enemy, according to Financial Times.

      On his first official visit to Brussels, Mr Yanukovych will tell senior European Union and Nato officials that he wants to base Ukraine`s foreign relations on pragmatism.

      Speaking in Kiev ahead of his departure, Mr Yanukovych called for "a balance" in relations with the west and Russia. But in an apparent swipe at Mr Yushchenko`s pro-west views and at the EU`s reluctance to treat Ukraine as a potential future member, Mr Yanukovych also said it was time to replace "Euro-romanticism" with "Euro-pragmatism".

      Mr Yanukovych this summer won Mr Yushchenko`s personal backing for a coalition government in a deal that followed months of deadlock after elections in March. Most voters had expected Mr Yushchenko to form a government with Yulia Tymoshenko, his former ally in the pro-democracy Orange Revolution, but Mr Yushchenko turned instead to Mr Yanukovych, his rival in the disputed 2004 presidential elections.

      A pact signed by the two men includes Mr Yushchenko`s plans for integration with the west, including early membership of the World Trade Organization and possible future accession to Nato and the EU. But Mr Yanukovych commitment to these aims has yet to be tested and doubts persist about his government`s stability - not least because Mr Yushchenko`s Our Ukraine party has yet to join the coalition, despite the president`s personal backing.

      Mr Yanukovych, who earlier pledged to revive strong ties with Russia, said this week his government would adhere to the western integration plans. But he provided few details on how fast it would proceed.

      The visit to Brussels is expected to do little to solve Ukraine`s fundamental dilemmas. While many people in western and central Ukraine want integration with the west, much of eastern Ukraine, where support for Mr Yanukovych is high, favours ties with Russia.

      Ukraine relies heavily on Russia for low-cost oil and gas. Prices are now rising but remain well below central and west European levels.

      Vladimir Putin, Russian president, backed Mr Yanukovych in the 2004 presidential poll and was furious at Mr Yushchenko`s victory. He has moderated his criticism since the Yushchenko-Yanukovych deal and last week praised the president for his statesman-like qualities.

      But Ukraine remains vulnerable to Russian pressure. Moscow is promoting a loosely defined economic union, including a customs union, designed to boost co-operation between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Western-oriented Ukrainians worry this could bring Kiev closer into Moscow`s orbit.

      While most Ukrainians support EU integration, about two-thirds oppose Nato membership. But Mr Yushchenko wants to press ahead with Nato integration, including securing a membership action plan (MAP) - a precursor to full membership - later this year.

      Mr Yushchenko wants entry into the WTO this year to score an early success for his foreign policies. But Mr Yanukovych has questioned the proposed entry terms. As for EU integration, Kiev officials recognize that membership is a distant prospect - and that Brussels will not even offer a vague promise of accession in the light of public opposition in the EU to further enlargement.

      Kiev wants stronger trade relations, including better access to EU markets. Brussels is ready to work on this but insists the onus is on Ukraine to carry out necessary reforms, starting with completing preparations for WTO membership.

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