Russia's Putin To Visit Ukraine Next Month Amid Efforts To Mend Ties

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Ukraine next month amid efforts to mend strained relations between the former Soviet republics, Putin's Security Council chief said Thursday.

Putin plans to visit on Dec. 22, Russian Security Council secretary Igor Ivanov said during a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Vitaliy Hayduk.

It would be Putin's second visit to Ukraine since the 2004 election of Westward-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko following a bitter campaign in which the Russian leader publicly backed Yushchenko's opponent, Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych returned to the prime minister's post this August after his party won the most votes in March parliamentary elections, and Ukraine is making a new push to improve ties with Moscow.

"The overwhelming majority of people in Ukraine and Russia are interested in improving relations," Ivanov said, expressing confidence the nations could "solve the problems that we mainly inherited after the collapse of the USSR."

Putin's visit should "open a new page in our relations," he said.

Yushchenko advocates membership in NATO and the European Union, but he now shares power with Yanukovych, whose support base is in the largely Russian-speaking east and has made good relations with Moscow a priority.

Russia is Ukraine's biggest trading partner, and Ukraine is heavily dependent on natural gas supplies from Russia. A dispute over gas prices earlier this year caused Moscow to temporarily cut off supplies to Ukraine, a shutdown that was also felt in western Europe, which receives much of its Russian gas via Ukrainian pipelines.

Since Yushchenko's elections, Russia and Ukraine have also sparred over issues including the presence of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory and the use of lighthouses on its Crimean peninsula.

Source: AP