Reports: Ukraine's New Premier In Moscow; 2nd Trip To Russia This Week

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych made a secret visit to Moscow on Saturday, Ukrainian media reported, in what would be his second trip to Russia this week.

Putin (L) and Yanukovych (R)

The government's press office refused to comment on the Ukrainian news agency and television reports.

Yanukovych's spokesman could not be reached for confirmation.

The leader of the pro-Russian Party of Regions who was confirmed as prime minister earlier this month visited Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi earlier this week, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.

Talks focused on reaching a deal with Russia over natural gas supplies - a pressing task for Yanukovych, who raised expectations that his warmer links with Moscow might help secure concessions.

The Sochi meeting ended with no significant breakthroughs, and Yanukovych described the talks as "rather difficult."

Russia strongly supported Yanukovych's fraud-marred bid to win Ukraine's presidency in 2004, and his return as prime minister was welcomed in Russia as a way to balance Ukraine's pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, who has wanted to move Ukraine into NATO and the European Union.

Ukrainian media reported Saturday that Yanukovych flew to Moscow on Friday and planned to return Saturday evening. Yanukovych's office canceled the premier's meetings Friday and Saturday in Kyiv, citing scheduling changes.

In the past month, Yanukovych has publicly drifted from his party's earlier pro-Russian pronouncements, pledging that the president's foreign policy initiatives would remain unchanged.

After returning from the Sochi meeting, Yanukovych spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who encouraged further cooperation with the United States, Yanukovych's office said.

Yanukovych has said he also hopes to visit Brussels and Washington.

Source: AP