ROAR: Ukraine to overhaul “unambiguously pro-Western” foreign policy

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Choosing a prime minister and new foreign policy course – these two main tasks await Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich after his inauguration.

The new Ukrainian leader is considering some invitations for his first foreign visit, determining his priorities. But analysts are certain the destination will be Brussels.

Yanukovich will pay his first visit as the head of state to Brussels on March 1, the Russian media say, citing Ukrainian sources. The new president will meet the leadership of the European Union. Yanukovich is expected to visit Moscow in the first 10 days of March, after appointing a new prime minister.

It is presumed that the Ukrainian president “will make friends with those whose country he visits first,” said Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute of the Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. But former president Viktor Yushchenko’s case proves that it is not true, the analyst added.

“Yushchenko’s first visit was to Moscow, and we know what relations we had with him,” Zharikhin told Komsomolskaya Pravda radio. Yushchenko had to visit Moscow, where officials “were skeptical at that moment about his right to occupy the post of president,” he said.

“For Yanukovich, the situation is different,” the analyst noted. “Nobody in Moscow questions his victory or his right to be the president. “And it is important for him to go to Europe so that European countries do not have any opportunities to question his presidential authority.”

“Meanwhile, Moscow more than once made it clear that Viktor Yanukovich is a desirable guest in Russia,” Kommersant daily said. As for his visit to Brussels, the date has not been determined yet, the paper said, citing Anna German, deputy head of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions.

“The president has not yet made a final decision,” the paper quoted German as saying. She confirmed that the new Ukrainian leader had received invitations from Moscow, Brussels and “even the US for a conference on non-proliferation due in April.”

However, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry “has already started overhauling its unambiguous pro-Western position,” the paper said. “Deputy head of the Foreign Ministry, Vladimir Chaly, said that Ukraine, at least for three years, should stop attempts of accelerated joining military and political alliances,” it noted.

“This position is radically different from what the Foreign Ministry adhered to all five years Viktor Yushchenko was in office,” the paper said.

At the same time, Chaly also believes that “integration into the EU, Euro-Atlantic integration and building strategic relations with Russia will remain unchanged” under Yanukovich, Rosbalt news agency said.

The first visit will show the priorities of the new Ukrainian president, Gazeta daily said. But, as the main problems for Yanukovich lie in the economic sphere, he will go first “where help may come from,” the daily added.

Ukraine is facing a technical default, agreed Dmitry Abzalov of the Center for Political Conjuncture. This is explained by a budget deficit and the lack of sources of financing. “Europe, the USA and Russia have recently refused to finance the country,” he added. Yanukovich will try to stimulate growth in high-tech fields, and many of these projects are joint ventures of Russia and Ukraine, Abzalov said.

Yanukovich is expected to build rather pragmatic relations with Russia in all spheres, and the status of the Russian language will not be the main issue, many analysts stress. At the same time, this is a question important for those living in the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine. The new Ukrainian president so far has promised to implement the European charter on the languages of minorities.

“The Ukrainian leadership has considered the Russian language, native for the half of the population and which is spoken in everyday talk by the majority of people, only as one of the languages of national minorities,” said political scientist Vitaly Tretyakov in his blog.

In doing so, the former leadership had a full support of “Europe”, which did not want to give the Russian language a higher status, Tretyakov said.

Yanukovich does not promise more, and he is in this respect “just a bit more liberal than Ukrainian nationalists,” Tretyakov said. “However, even observing the European charter is progress compared to what Yushchenko did, actually banning the use of Russian somewhere else beyond home, in the street or in public organizations.”

But the fate of the Russian language in Ukraine under Yanukovich will depend on whomever gets the positions of culture and education ministers in the new government, Tretyakov stressed.

For Yanukovich, it is now even more important to decide not which country to visit first, but whom to choose for the prime minister, Kommersant said. Among the main candidates are Yanukovich’s former competitors in the presidential election, Sergey Tigipko and Arseny Yatsenyuk, as well as one of the leaders of the Party of Regions, Nikolay Azarov. “As Anna German said, Yanukovich will decide who to propose to the parliament just after the inauguration,” the paper noted.

Yanukovich has called on the current prime minister and his rival in the presidential election Yulia Timoshenko to resign as prime minister. However, she seems to be ready to remain in her post. She has also said that her bloc will not join a coalition in the parliament led by Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, which move may lead to early parliamentary elections.

“I think Timoshenko wants just that,” said Yevgenia Voyko of the Center for Political Conjuncture. The prime minister “is pushing the situation towards snap elections, which could help her to replay the situation in her favor and bring Timoshenko to leading positions,” the analyst said.

Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, may prevent Timoshenko from finding enough votes for that decision, believes Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute for Political Expertise.

The problem of the prime minister’s opponents is that “they do not have votes to form a new government, at least for now,” Minchenko said. “In this regard, the problem of forming a coalition arises,” he said. “But I think that it will be easier to negotiate the coalition while Timoshenko is dismissed and is an acting prime minister than when she is still a prime minister,” the analyst noted.

The parliament will be given two months to form a new coalition, otherwise deputies will face elections, Minchenko said. “There is a fifty-fifty chance that a coalition will be formed or the parliament dissolved,” he added.

Sergey Borisov, RT