Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Ukraine seeks better ties with EU, Yanukovych says

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, 1 Mar 10
Mr Yanukovych (left) is not pushing to get Ukraine into the EU

Integration with the European Union is a priority for Ukraine, the country's new president, Viktor Yanukovych, says.

Mr Yanukovych is seen as closer to Russia than his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko was - yet his first foreign visit as head of state is to Brussels.

"European integration is a key priority," he said after talks with EU leaders on Monday.

Mr Yanukovych said the talks focused on a planned association deal with the EU that would allow free trade.

His defeated rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, now faces a vote of no-confidence on Wednesday in the Ukrainian parliament.

She was an Orange Revolution ally of Mr Yushchenko, the former president whose pro-Western stance, including the ambition to join the EU and Nato, angered Moscow.

Mr Yanukovych pledged to "enhance" relations with Russia to ensure reliable deliveries of Russian gas to the EU via Ukraine. A dispute with Russia over gas prices disrupted supplies to the EU in January 2009.

The BBC's James Rodgers - a former Moscow correspondent - says Russia sees in Mr Yanukovych a friendlier partner than Mr Yushchenko, but its reaction to his victory has been quiet, not triumphalist.

Ukraine's foreign policy is no longer a simple question of East or West, our correspondent says. Europe also wants Ukraine and Russia to get on well.

Mr Yanukovych, who was sworn in as president last week, will head to Moscow on Friday.

Reviving the struggling Ukrainian economy is another big challenge that lies ahead of him.

The International Monetary Fund has suspended part of a $16.4bn (£10.8bn) loan for Ukraine, demanding that the government implement economic reforms.

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