- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2005

KIEV — Viktor Yushchenko, who is to be sworn in as president today, has pledged to steer Ukraine on a new course, fighting corruption and bringing the country closer to the European Union and NATO while maintaining good relations with Russia.

But the reformer, who won a court-ordered election spurred by weeks of protests against his earlier defeat in a fraud-plagued election, could face substantial opposition in the country’s largely Russian-speaking East, stronghold of his election foe, Viktor Yanukovych.

Many in the East fear a rise of Ukrainian nationalism under Mr. Yushchenko that could result in discrimination against them. Yesterday, Mr. Yushchenko participated in a traditional Ukrainian Cossack ceremony that could heighten those concerns.

In Washington, President Bush called Mr. Yushchenko to congratulate him on his election and on “democracy’s victory” in Ukraine, White House spokesman Brian Besanceney said.

“The two leaders also discussed their support for the people of Iraq and for democracy in that country,” Mr. Besanceney said. “They agreed to consult and work closely together in the coming months.”

Ukraine has 1,650 troops in Iraq, the fourth-largest contingent in the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq, and it lost eight troops in an explosion of an ammunition dump on Jan. 9.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who arrived in Kiev yesterday, promised to help the Ukrainians improve their economy and to promote “greater involvement in the trans-Atlantic relationship.”

In contrast, Russia sent relatively low-level representation — Sergei Mironov, head of the upper house of parliament.

In the Cossack ceremony, Mr. Yushchenko was named a hetman, or Cossack leader. Ukrainian Cossacks are considered historic defenders of the land against outside oppression.

“I am convinced that … our forefathers were also dreaming of seeing a democratic Ukraine with free people, with free Cossacks,” Mr. Yushchenko said at the Kiev ceremony, attended by more than 300 Cossacks from Ukraine’s south.

He was presented with a golden mace, a symbol of a hetman’s dignity. Many in Ukraine’s large ethnic-Russian population are watching closely to see how prominently the overtly nationalistic symbol will be used in today’s inauguration.

Mr. Yushchenko’s first foreign trip as president will be to Russia tomorrow, underlining his concern about relations with the Kremlin, but thereafter, he embarks on a swing through the West, including an appearance at the European Parliament.

Workers yesterday hammered on stages hastily constructed on Kiev’s Independence Square for the inauguration, as a block away residents of the once- sprawling downtown tent camp that housed his supporters for two months tore down their makeshift homes to make way for the hundreds of thousands expected for the festivities.

The tent camp, which housed thousands at its height, sprang up within hours of the Nov. 21 presidential election that was later deemed fraudulent by the Supreme Court and annulled, stripping Mr. Yanukovych of victory.

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