Ukraine`s goal of gradual integration with the European Union will continue regardless of the results of Sunday`s elections because this is one of the few issues on which the rival political parties actually agree, Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said to AP.

But closer cooperation with NATO is a different matter due partly to Russia`s opposition, Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday.

«Polls have consistently shown that more than 60 percent of Ukrainians favor closer political and economic cooperation with the European Union,» Yatsenyuk said. «And all major political parties, including to my own surprise the Ukrainian Communist Party, now back this.

Yatsenyuk refused to speculate when Ukraine could join the grouping, saying the nation must focus on implementing EU-mandated reforms.

Sunday`s snap election is the product of a hard-won agreement between President Victor Yushchenko and his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. It is meant to ease a confrontation that has paralyzed politics in the country since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

At the time, street protests against fraud forced a revote in the presidential election in which Yanukovych was initially declared the winner, but which Yushchenko eventually won. Yanukovych, however, staged a remarkable political comeback last year when his party received the most votes in parliamentary elections and formed the ruling coalition.

Yanukovych`s party, which leads in the opinion polls, is seen as generally closer to Moscow. But that will not affect the country`s pro-EU policy, Yatsenyuk said.

«No matter which party emerges as the largest or which coalition government is formed, the political elites agree on the reforms needed to make Ukraine more compatible with EU membership,» he said.

But there is no such agreement on eventual membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite calls from some Ukrainian politicians for a referendum on joining the alliance.

«There is a very low public awareness of what NATO means,» Yatsenyuk said. «Only about three percent of Ukrainians have any idea what it is.

Moscow, too, has repeatedly voiced concerns about the Western alliance`s eastern expansion to its borders since the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania joined the bloc in 2004.

«The Russians are very cautious on NATO, sometimes even blunt,» Yatsenyuk said.