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Next Ukrainian President: East or West?

Polish and Russian lawmakers visiting Ukraine offer divergent views on the country's possible post-election foreign policy

The top two vote-getters in Sunday's Ukrainian presidential election are often stereotyped as the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovch and pro-Western Yulia Tymoshenko. They face a run-off on February 7. The orientation of Ukraine's next president is of particular interest to the country's immediate neighbors - Russia and Poland.

The pro-Western positions of Yulia Tymoshenko are well-established.

But a foreign policy statement aired on Ukrainian television after Viktor Yanukovych's election victory Sunday indicates he may also pursue Ukrainian integration with Europe.

Mr. Yanukovych says renewing a full-fledged partnership with Russia will be one of his priorities, as will a mutually beneficial partnership with the United States, the European Union and key members of the G-20.

Polish parliament-member Mariusz Kaminski told VOA that Ukraine will continue to pursue a pro-Western policy regardless of who wins the presidential run-off.

Kaminski says his conversations with fellow lawmakers from [Yanukovych's] Regions Party indicate they have a complete understanding of the context for European integration. This, he says, is no longer a controversial issue in Yanukovych's party.

The context Kaminski refers to is what he calls civilizational -- a broad recognition the European Union offers Ukraine a qualitative leap forward in terms of reduced bureaucracy, improved infrastructure and standards by which citizens are treated.

Russian lawmaker Sergei Markov says the resounding defeat of President Viktor Yushchenko underscores voter desire for better economic policies represented by the third- and fourth-place showings of Serhiy Tihipko and Arseniy Yatseniuk, who finished ahead of the incumbent.

Markov applies many of the same criticisms to Yulia Tymoshenko that he does to President Yushchenko - close ties with Georgia, reduced emphasis on the Russian language and controversial support for Ukraine's anti-Soviet insurgents in World War Two. Moscow considers them to have been German collaborators.

Nonetheless, Markov says Ms. Tymoshenko will recognize the economic pragmatism of Tihipko and Yatseniuk.

Markov says Ukraine and Russia should develop joint aviation and space industries, nuclear machine building, shipbuilding, metallurgy, a grain cartel with Kazakhstan to control a third of the global market, universities and all that goes into modern economic development.

Markov disagrees with Kaminski regarding Ukrainian NATO membership. The Russian lawmaker says the issue was closed in the aftermath of the 2008 war in Georgia.

Markov says it is obvious the West does not want to fight Russia. He warns, however, that NATO's eastward expansion could draw NATO's war machine into a conflict with Russia, something he says the alliance certainly does not want.

While Yulia Tymoshenko has softened earlier support for NATO, Viktor Yanukovych has couched his opposition with statements made in the West that ordinary Ukrainians are not ready for membership.

Mariusz Kaminski says Russia will drop its opposition to Ukrainian NATO membership just as it did in the case of Poland. He adds that he continues to lobby Ukrainian NATO membership with his European counterparts in his capacity as a Defense Committee member in the Polish Parliament.

Kaminski says what is needed with regard to NATO is a long, thorough and genuine discussion with Ukrainian citizens about the benefits of the alliance. He adds that everyone should participate in the discussion, including representatives of the West and Russia.

Markov says he welcomes what he says is the Obama Administration's more neutral stance toward Ukraine.

The lawmaker says Ukraine should not be a field of conflict between East and West, but rather a place of cooperation between Russia and, first of all, the European Union. He says they should build a greater Europe, based on a new security space involving NATO, Russia, Ukraine and others such as the Caucasus countries.

Another component, he says, should be creation of a free-trade zone.

Markov says Europe has a need for good relations between Ukraine and Russia. Kaminski says the continent needs Ukraine for several reasons, among them, to ensure reliable delivery of natural gas. His Russian counterpart blames Viktor Yushchenko for supply disruptions of recent years, and says the problem will end with his departure.