KIEV, Ukraine – Viktor Yanukovych plans to travel to Russia this month for his first foreign visit as Ukraine's new prime minister, officials said Tuesday, in a trip that underscores the government's efforts to mend ties with Moscow.
Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk also said Yanukovych planned to visit Brussels next month.
Yanukovych, whose fraud-marred bid for the presidency in 2004 was backed by the Kremlin, returned to the premier's job last week. Yanukovych won the most votes in a March election and formed a majority coalition, but President Viktor Yushchenko made him pledge to continue pro-Western policies.
Yanukovych met privately with Tarasyuk and formally presented him as foreign minister Tuesday.
"During our meeting, a lot of attention was paid to our relations with Russia," said Tarasyuk, who is considered one of Ukraine's most pro-Western politicians.
Yushchenko exercised his constitutional right to name the foreign minister. The choice to keep Tarasyuk as top diplomat signaled his intention to keep eventual NATO and EU membership a priority.
"The foreign policy course of our state remains unchangeable," Tarasyuk said, as Yanukovych stood next to him. "Our foreign policy will not be pro-Eastern nor pro-Western, but Ukrainian, based on Ukrainian interests."
However, the country's most vocal pro-Russian party, the Progressive Socialist Party, slammed Yanukovych for betraying voters and Russia by agreeing to Yushchenko's foreign policy. The party does not have a seat in parliament, but can draw big crowds.