The United States said Monday that it was prepared to work with any government in Ukraine following closely-contested elections in the ex-Soviet republic, according to AFP.

The elections hung on a knife-edge late Monday as preliminary results threatened a dead heat, with pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, his partner in the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, seeing their slim lead diminish rapidly as late results came in.

Their arch rival, Moscow-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, scored steady gains, threatening the Orange alliance`s plans to remove Yanukovych from power and replace him with the fiery reformer Tymoshenko, setting the nation of 47 million people on a firmer Western course.

The United States hopes "that this election will result in a government in Ukraine that can be effective and can serve the needs of the people," said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman.

"And we stand ready to work with whatever government results from these elections," he said.

Sunday`s election in Ukraine was called early to try to resolve a power struggle between Yushchenko and Yanukovych.

Yushchenko has ordered a police probe into the vote count in eastern and southern Ukraine, traditionally pro-Russian strongholds of Yanukovych.

He said that results were being released too slowly and ordered "law-enforcement agencies immediately to begin an investigation."

Citing the main Western monitoring group, the OSCE, which gave the election a clean bill of health, Casey said, "We`re pleased to see that these elections have moved forward.

"I think we would still, of course, need to see the votes actually be counted and official results released before we can start recognizing any individual winners and before we can have a full assessment of the process itself," he said.

Washington, the European Union and an increasingly assertive Kremlin are all vying for influence in strategically placed Ukraine, which has expressed interest in joining both the European Union and NATO.

Ukraine straddles key Russian gas export routes to energy-hungry EU clients.