The United States said Thursday it is ready to work with a Ukrainian government headed by Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian political figure who lost a controversy-ridden presidential contest two years ago. He is poised to become the country's new prime minister Friday in a coalition that will include supporters of Western-oriented President Viktor Yuschenko.
Mr.Yanukovych was looked on with suspicion by the United States and other Western governments in Ukraine's scandal-tainted 2004 presidential race.
But he has staged a notable comeback in the country's turbulent politics since then, and the United States is making clear it wants a good relationship with the new coalition government he will lead.
Mr. Yanukovych, whose strength is in the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country, left politics under a cloud in 2004 when the country's supreme court threw out his victory in the disputed presidential election and ordered a revote, won by Mr. Yushchenko in what become known as the Orange Revolution.
He has skillfully played coalition politics in recent months as efforts to hold together a Western-leaning government foundered.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States strongly supported the Orange Revolution, which he said allowed a free electoral process and true democracy to take root in Ukraine.
He said Mr. Yanukovych has had his recent successes by working within the democratic system, and that the United States sees his return to prominence as part of the evolution of the democratic process in Ukraine.
"Mr. Yanukovych has come to the prime ministership in the old-fashioned, democratic way," he said. "He worked hard for votes, he campaigned, he politicked. And we are going to work with the government of Mr. Yanukovych just as we would with any other democratically-elected government. We look forward to taking about the full range of issues between the United States and Ukraine. We want to have a good relationship with the Ukrainian government."
Spokesman McCormack said it remains to be seen what impact the new coalition government will have on President Yuschenko's goal of early membership in NATO. He said the issue will be discussed by alliance leaders at their summit meeting in the Latvian capital, Riga, at the end of November.
The Ukrainian president and Mr. Yanukovych signed a declaration Thursday promising continuity in the country's foreign policy, and stipulating that the issue of Ukrainian accession to NATO should be decided through a national referendum.