- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

KIEV — Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko sought to ease tensions with Russia yesterday even as he nominated one of Ukraine’s highest-profile critics of the Kremlin as prime minister.

Before leaving Kiev for a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Yushchenko named Yulia Tymoshenko to the prime minister’s post.

Mrs. Tymoshenko, a 44-year-old politician, is often seen as a firebrand who helped herald in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution that brought Mr. Yushchenko to power.

Her outspoken criticism of Russia’s attempts to influence the election won her wide appeal. She is wildly admired or despised and generates publicity like a rock star.

Russia, however, issued an arrest warrant for her on charges of forgery and gas smuggling when she was head of a private gas trading firm in the 1990s.

In Moscow, Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Putin reaffirmed their commitment to building strong relations.

Mr. Yushchenko, who traveled to Moscow a day after his inauguration as president, said Russia was Ukraine’s strategic partner and that his visit showed a “high level of respect to Russia.”

Mr. Putin, who had twice traveled to Ukraine in support of pro-Russian former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the presidential campaign, justified his actions, saying he was only acting at the request of the previous regime.

“We are very happy that this difficult political period in Ukraine has passed, and that a government is in place … and we expect that our relations will continue to develop,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Yushchenko said: “We always insisted and will insist that Russia is our eternal strategic partner.”

Mr. Yushchenko said he was open to creating a so-called joint economic space only if it adhered to Ukraine’s national interests and did not interfere with his country entering into other international institutions.

The common space is a cornerstone of Mr. Putin’s foreign policy in the former Soviet Union and would integrate the economies of Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Mr. Yushchenko often voiced his suspicion that the plan would be used as a vehicle to give Russia greater political control over its post-Soviet neighbors.

Volodymyr Lytvyn, Ukraine’s parliament speaker, said he expected Mrs. Tymoshenko will be confirmed as prime minister.

Mr. Yushchenko also appointed ally Petro Poroshenko, a millionaire businessman, to head the National Security Council, and Oleksander Zinchenko, who ran his presidential campaign, to head a restructured presidential Cabinet.

It is no secret that Mr. Yushchenko favors Ukraine’s integration with the West.

He will arrive in Western Europe today for a weeklong tour. He is scheduled to address the European Parliament, attend the 60th anniversary of the freeing of the Auschwitz death camp, and participate in the World Economic Forum.

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