Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Friday, 5 September 2008 15:52 UK

Ukraine: Torn in two directions

By Olexiy Solohubenko
BBC Europe Editor

Yulia Tymoshenko and Dick Cheney
Yulia Tymoshenko also needs to address Russian support in Ukraine

As US Vice-President Dick Cheney ends his trip to Kiev, he leaves a country politically uneasy over Nato and the impact of any future membership on Ukraine's relations with Russia.

Unlike Georgia, where Mr Cheney received overwhelming support, attitudes in Ukraine are more nuanced.

It is one of those cases when less is more.

The less Dick Cheney touches upon the theme of Nato, the more the chance that the current political stand-off in Ukraine will be resolved in a more dignified manner.

The point is not only that according to opinion polls most Ukrainians would rather stay out of Nato, but also that Ukraine's leadership is far from united on the issue.

Russian opposition

While Mr Yushchenko has been clear in presenting Nato as the way forward for Ukraine, his Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, has been more circumspect.

She did sign a letter requesting a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine, but has since gone quiet.

Russian opposition to Nato is well known, and relations with Moscow are an important factor in domestic Ukrainian politics, particularly after the war in Georgia.

Viktor Yushchenko during talks with Nato (16.6.08)
Viktor Yushchenko has made joining Nato a priority for Ukraine

So when the next presidential election campaign begins towards the end of next year, it will be a balancing act for the main players in terms of how strongly they focus on Russia and on Nato.

Yulia Tymoshenko is now accused by the president of being too close to Russia, and even having Russian backing.

It may be true, but not surprising.

As the most popular politician in the country she needs to capture the mood in both western Ukraine - with its great European connection - and in the east of the country, where relations with Russia have a strong emotional and cultural foundation.

So talk of Europe and the European Union is acceptable - after all, the EU is Ukraine's largest trading partner now, and is a greater influence than the US.

But talk of Nato also inevitably brings further divisions, and Ukraine has plenty of its own.

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