Ukraine's Pro-West Parties On Brink Of Victory

KIEV, Ukraine -- Pro-Western parties on Wednesday looked certain to win Ukraine's parliamentary election, with firebrand leader Yulia Tymoshenko likely to become prime minister amid fears of new tensions with neighbouring Russia.

President Viktor Yushchenko

President Viktor Yushchenko was to announce the formation of a coalition with Tymoshenko, his partner in the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, the presidential administration said.

With 99.24 percent of ballots counted, their Orange coalition had won 45 percent of the vote.

The Regions Party, headed by their bitter rival, pro-Moscow Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, had 34.21 percent.

Yanukovych could in theory assemble a rival coalition with 43.5 percent of the vote, just 1.5 percentage points behind the Orange team.

Russia accuses democracy movements in the ex-Soviet Union of serving the interests of Western governments and the return of the Orange team was likely to irritate increasingly powerful President Vladimir Putin.

The first sign of trouble came Tuesday, just as early results indicated possible victory for the Orange team, when Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom warned it would cut gas supplies next month if Ukraine failed to pay debts of more than one billion dollars.

Ukraine rushed its energy minister to Moscow for talks as the political tensions remained high in Kiev.

Sunday's election was held to end months of political chaos in this ex-Soviet republic of 47 million people, but the slender margin of victory for the pro-Western camp meant further wrangling was inevitable.

The results indicated that the 450-seat Rada, or parliament, was likely to be heavily divided, with the Orange coalition's majority numbering only a few seats.

Amid accusations of fraud, there was also the possibility of a court challenge by the small Socialist Party, which appeared to have narrowly failed to cross the three percent threshold for entry to parliament, robbing Yanukovych of a crucial coalition ally.

Victory in Sunday's snap parliamentary poll would mark a stunning comeback for the Tymoshenko-Yushchenko duo, who shot to worldwide fame when they led the 2004 Orange Revolution to overturn a rigged presidential election victory by Yanukovych.

Yushchenko won the rerun and has pushed to take Ukraine into NATO and the European Union, breaking Moscow's centuries-old stranglehold over the country.

However, for the last 11 months he has been forced to deal with his bitter rival Yanukovych as prime minister, a chaotic period that forced the calling of Sunday's election -- the third national poll in as many years.

The dispute with Russia over payments for gas sparked alarm in the European Union, which heavily depends on Ukraine for the transit of Russian energy. The the EU Commission calling for a "swift settlement" to the dispute.

Although Gazprom insists that its policies are based entirely on business needs, critics accuse the giant exporter of bullying former Soviet republics that get too close to the West.

"It could be Russia's way of saying that if Tymoshenko doesn't give up her prime ministerial ambitions she could have very big problems," a source closely connected to the government told AFP.

Russia's Kommersant newspaper said the link was clear.

"Gazprom, which held off discussing gas deliveries to Ukraine before the elections, was not slow to react to their results. Victory by the Oranges cannot suit either Russia or Gazprom," the daily wrote Wednesday.

Source: AFP