Ukraine's Comeback PM Wants to Restore Ties with Russia

MOSCOW, Russia -- After making a stunning political comeback, Ukraine's new Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich is looking to restore strained ties with Moscow.

Putin (L) with "favorite son" Yanukovich

Ukraine's new government "will not provoke anti-Russian sentiments," he told Russia's official Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily Saturday, a day after saying he would "prioritize relations with Russia."

He also pledged to uphold controversial agreements with Russia on gas supplies.

Yanukovich enjoys strong support from the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine and has long presented himself as a guardian of Russian culture and language in Ukraine.

He was appointed prime minister last week by his political rival, President Viktor Yushchenko, under whose leadership Ukraine has moved out of Russia's orbit and closer to the West -- to Moscow's displeasure.

The move by a reluctant president provided a new political lease of life to Yanukovich, whose earlier bid to become president was defeated by Yushchenko in December 2004.

As part of a negotiated deal, Yanukovich agreed to support Ukraine's campaign to join the European Union, work toward Word Trade Organization membership, and cooperate with NATO, among other things.

In another concession, Yanukovich agreed to drop the idea of turning Ukraine into a federal state as well as a demand that the Russian language be given official status in Ukraine.

In return, Yushchenko dropped his insistence on immediate NATO membership and agreed to hold a nationwide referendum on NATO entry.

Ukraine is thought to be unlikely to join NATO any time soon because the move is believed to be unpopular with a majority of Ukrainians.

Yushchenko called the development a unique chance for the national unity.

Last March, parliamentary elections saw Yanukovich's Party of Regions come out on top but without enough seats to form a majority in the 450-seat parliament, the Supreme Rada.

The following month, representatives of three other parties agreed to form a pro-Western ruling coalition in parliament, the Orange bloc.

The deal would have kept Yanukovich and his party out of office, but it collapsed last month when one of the Orange parties, the Socialists, abandoned the coalition and sided with the Yanukovich's party and the Communists.

The head of one of the remaining Orange parties, Julie Tymoshenko, wanted the president to dissolve parliament and accused him of capitulating to Yanukovich. She said her party would oppose the new cabinet.

Russian response to the developments has been muted so far.

Leader of the Russian Communist party, Gennady Zyuganov, urged Yanukovich not to abandon his pro-Russian stance, and not to bow to pressure from the "pro-American" Yushchenko.

Source: CNS News