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New Ukrainian President Touts Domestic Reforms, Non-Aligned Foreign Policy

  • Peter Fedynsky

Ukraine's newly inaugurated president, Viktor Yanukovych, says the country can only address its endemic poverty and corruption if it reforms a system of government currently designed to serve the interests of individual politicians. Speaking in parliament after taking the oath of office, Mr. Yanukovych said Ukraine should be a non-aligned country that serves as a bridge between Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Yanukovych took the oath of office on the 16th century Peresopnytska Gospel, the oldest religious text printed in the Ukrainian language. After receiving a mace, the traditional symbol of Ukrainian power, Mr. Yanukovych told lawmakers and foreign dignitaries that he assumes the presidency amid extremely complicated circumstances - including the absence of a national budget, a colossal foreign debt, poverty, a ruined economy and corruption.

He says addressing these problems will require an effective government and political opposition, which all synchronize their work with the president. He urged Ukrainians to cleanse their hearts of what he called "the poison of hate", in terms reminiscent of President Obama's call to extend a hand to foreign adversaries willing to unclench their fists.

Mr. Yanukovych says life confirms a simple and obvious truth: people do not like it when they are shown a fist, but tend rather to trust more in those who extend a hand as a symbol of peace.

The new president denounced the current structure of the Ukrainian government and court system, which he says have been "sewn together" in the interests of individual politicians.

He was equally critical of Ukraine's failure to develop a post-industrial economy. He says the country, instead, turned to unbridled capitalism, which has put the country behind in 21st century knowledge-based industries. However, he says that direct government interference in the economy is a road to nowhere.

Mr. Yanukovych says the necessary conditions for renewed investor faith in Ukraine are ensuring internal stability, overcoming corruption, and establishing clear - and above all - fixed rules governing relations between the state and business.

Turning to international affairs, President Yanukovych said Ukraine is simultaneously an integral part of Europe and of the former Soviet Union and should serve as a non-aligned bridge between both.

He says Ukraine will adopt a foreign policy which will allow it to gain maximum results and beneficial relations with the Russian Federation, the European Union, the United States and others that influence the situation around the world.

Only one former Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, participated in the inauguration ceremony. Defeated presidential contender and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko boycotted the event, having said earlier she does not recognize Mr. Yanukovych as president. However, his immediate predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, welcomed him later in the presidential building for an official transfer of control of the armed forces.

Inauguration Day began with a prayer service at Kyiv's ancient Monastery of the Caves, led by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. He stirred controversy among many Ukrainians of other faiths who resented Kirill's presence as meddling in the internal affairs of their country. In an allusion to Ukraine's linguistic and cultural divide, Mr. Yanukovych said people usually tend to politicize certain spiritual matters when they find themselves in a state of perpetual financial instability.

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