Ukraine's New PM To Visit Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Newly appointed Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is heading to Russia for talks which will test his country's pro-Western policies.

Viktor Yanukovych (L) meeting with Putin (R)

Russia has welcomed what it says are potentially friendlier ties, after backing Mr Yanukovych in 2004's controversial presidential election.

But Mr Yanukovych had to agree to tone down his pro-Moscow policies in the deal to receive the prime ministership.

He now says he wants closer links with the West.

He is due to meet Russian leaders in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

In March's parliamentary election, Viktor Yanukovych stood on a platform of making Russian a second official language and opposing eventual Nato membership for Ukraine.

Now, he says that Ukrainian children should learn good Ukrainian, calls for Ukraine to "truly move" towards Nato and has even set the ambitious goal of joining the World Trade Organization by the end of this year.

Kuchma echoes

These are dramatic U-turns that have left many Ukrainians wondering just who represents whom.

In his first live television interview after assuming the prime ministership, Mr Yanukovych tried to explain them.

Russia and Ukraine, he said, were economic competitors, fighting for the same markets.

And relations with Moscow would always be difficult, he added, assuring the public that Ukraine could build closer relations with both the West and Russia.

Some Ukrainian analysts say this is reminiscent of the strategy pursued by the former president, Leonid Kuchma.

Namely, of paying lip service to Moscow while actually doing what he thought was in his own - and not Russia's - best interests.

The thorny issue of gas prices and deliveries will be top of the agenda for Mr Yanukovych's visit to Russia.

And with Gazprom remaining keen to push its customers towards paying the full, market rates, the negotiations are likely to be tough.

Russia backed Mr Yanukovych strongly during the 2004 presidential election, providing him with money, exposure on prime-time media, advisers and technical specialists.

It is likely that Russia, in return for this support and a possible discount on gas prices, might want to see a more malleable policy from Kiev.

Source: BBC News