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Russia offers Ukraine's Yushchenko 'cooperation'
Updated: 2005-01-13 11:26

Russia offered on Wednesday to work with Ukraine's new leader, in an end to its frosty silence over Viktor Yushchenko's election victory.

Yushchenko, whose inauguration has been stalled by last-ditch appeals from an opponent once backed by Russia, angered Moscow during his campaign but has made overtures to the Kremlin since his win in the Dec. 26 vote.

"The Russian Federation is ready for cooperation with the newly appointed leadership of Ukraine," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters through an interpreter during a visit to Washington.

"Now the election is already a thing of the past ... I believe that currently normal work will be reestablished on the part of the government of the Russian Federation as was the case with the previous government of Ukraine," he added.

Ivanov, whose comments indicate Russia wants to retain its influence over the ex-Soviet state, noted Yushchenko had announced his first foreign visit would symbolically be to Moscow.

The historic change of power appears to orient the country of nearly 50 million on the edge of NATO and the EU decisively to the West after an election that many analysts saw as a tussle for influence between Russia and the West.

But Yushchenko is keen to patch up ties with Moscow, where Russian President Vladimir Putin originally backed his opponent, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.

Yanukovich was declared winner of a rigged earlier election in November, bringing hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters into the streets.

Putin quickly congratulated Yanukovich but the United States said the vote was "illegitimate."

Ukraine's Supreme Court overturned the vote, paving the way for the Dec. 26 ballot.

Putin has yet to congratulate Yushchenko, so far saying only that whoever becomes Ukraine's president should be "pragmatic."

A serious breakdown in ties would hurt both countries' economies. Ukraine's Soviet-era industry overwhelmingly depends on imports of gas and oil, from Russia itself or through Russian pipes. Moscow's own westward exports go mainly through Ukraine.

Ukraine's westward shift has reopened the question of how far organizations such as NATO and the EU should overcome Russian resistance and open their doors to ex-Soviet states once seen as firmly in Moscow's orbit.

Ivanov indicated Russia expected the West to exert no more influence over Ukraine than it did during the last decade, when President Leonid Kuchma had cool ties with governments and largely ignored their calls for democratic and human rights improvements.

"The Ukraine government will also establish the same kind of contacts as it did previously with Western countries," he said.

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