KIEV, Ukraine -- In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, his first to a Western newspaper since his election victory earlier this month, Viktor Yanukovych, laughed off the idea he was a Kremlin stooge.
He said the West would benefit from his new position and even promised to end the threats to Russian gas supplies flowing through his country to Europe."I have drawn deep conclusions from the mistakes I have made in the past," he said. "The truth is that I am on Ukraine's side. I want balanced and pragmatic relations with our strategic partners.".Mr Yanukovych, 59, a former Communist party member and twice convicted felon, narrowly defeated the country's prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, at the ballot box earlier this month.Mrs Tymoshenko again alleged yesterday that Mr Yanukovych had cheated his way to the presidency and vowed a legal challenge.But the international community has widely recognised Mr Yanukovych's victory as legitimate and Ukraine's central election commission has said it will not consider Mrs Tymoshenko's challenge. Mr Yanukovych is expected to force Mrs Tymoshenko's resignation from the premiership as early as this week as he moves to consolidate his grip on what is a huge strategically vital gas-transit country sandwiched between Russia and the West.His victory caps a remarkable and unlikely comeback from the political dead.Five years ago, mass protests triggered what came to be known as the Orange Revolution, a series of events that saw Mr Yanukovych stripped of a fraud-tainted election win and cast into the political wilderness.Bankrolled by some of the country's fabulously wealthy oligarchs and coached by a team of American spin doctors, Mr Yanukovych has gradually clawed his way back.Dressed in a dark suit and sporting a carefully coiffed, Soviet-style swept-back hairdo, he insists he does not hold a grudge against America even though he admits he is convinced that Washington helped engineer the 2004 Orange Revolution."Today (America's involvement) is not a secret. It was known and understood a long time ago. But we have already turned a new page and are looking to the future."Former US President George Bush's policy of spreading US-style democracy was dead and buried."Attempts to foist political views on any people cause people's lives to get worse. It is a policy that does not lead to trust or success," he said.Europe could sleep safely in the knowledge that Ukraine would not get embroiled in any spats with Russia that have caused serious gas shortages in Europe in recent years, he added."When I was prime minister on two different occasions we never had such problems," he said. "People did not even know it was possible to have such problems in Europe. The conflicts were unjustified and relations with Russia over-politicised. Ukraine can play a stabilising role in many questions between Europe and Russia."While craving warmer relations with the West, Mr Yanukovych makes no secret of the fact that his priority is to rebuild battered relations with Russia.He says he wants to help Russia get into the World Trade Organisation and has said he will consider allowing Russia's Black Sea Fleet to remain based in Ukraine after its lease runs out in 2017. He also wants the Russian language to be given equal or near equal status with Ukrainian, the country's sole state language for now."We need to improve our ties with brotherly countries such as Russia," he says. He will have an early opportunity to show where his loyalties lie when he makes his first foreign trip as president. Like Ukraine itself, he will have to make a symbolic yet fateful choice: Russia or Europe.