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Europe

Ukraine Crisis Clouds EU-Russia Summit

A day before an EU-Russia summit, the EU warned Ukraine Wednesday of "consequences" for its hopes of closer ties with Europe if it fails to respond to concerns about contested elections.

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Blue's for Yanukovich, orange for Yushchenko

The warning came as European leaders scrambled to prevent an escalation of the row over the ex-Soviet republic's polls, which for many resemble a Cold War-era standoff between East and West over influence in eastern Europe.

The row risks overshadowing an EU-Russia summit planned Thursday in The Hague, with European leaders pledging to make their concerns about the Ukrainian ballots crystal clear.

Amid fast-moving events in Kiev, European Commission chief Jose Barroso called on Ukraine to delay announcement of final results until a full review of the polls had been undertaken.

Jose Manuel Barroso in Brüssel

Jose Barroso

"There will be consequences in the overall relations between the EU and Ukraine if there is not a serious, objective and balanced review of the electoral process and the electoral results," he said.

Yanukovich declared winner

But Ukraine's central election commission announced late Wednesday that pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich had won the vote. Yanukovich then offered immediate talks with his liberal challenger, saying he was ready to "look for common ground."

Wahlen in der Ukraine Viktor Janukowitsch

Viktor Yanukovich

With ballots from all polling stations counted, Moscow-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich (photo) received 49.46 percent of the vote, compared to 46.61 percent for the West-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, it said.

Following the annoucement, Yushchenko called for a general strike across the country and refused to concede the election to Yanukovich.

Ukraine's outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, said that civil war had become a real possibility because of the deep divisions in his country.

Ukraine has been one of the EU's new neighbors since May, when the bloc took in 10 mostly ex-communist states in eastern Europe. EU leaders have long fostered strengthened ties with Kiev, but have speeded up moves this year.

The contested election risks sparking a serious downturn in those ties.

Solana calls for review

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana renewed a call for Ukraine to look again at the contested poll result, which has sparked mass protests after the pro-Russian prime minister claimed victory.

Referring to eastern Ukraine where Yanukovich has his stronghold, Solana said: "In this part of Ukraine, the vote has been fraudulently accounted, there is no doubt about that."

Gerhard Schröder und Wladimir Putin in Jekaterinenburg

Schröder (left) and Putin

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder -- who discussed the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone -- also weighed in, saying the Ukrainian polls were marred by "massive fraud" and urging a peaceful end to the crisis.

EU Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin recalled that EU foreign ministers on Monday expressed serious concern about the presidential ballots and called for a review of procedures and the initial results.

"We are urging our Ukrainian partners to resist announcing the final result until that review has taken place," she told reporters.

Envoys enroute

Meanwhile the EU's Dutch presidency confirmed it is to dispatch a special envoy to Ukraine -- former Dutch ambassador to the United Nations and NATO Niek Biegman -- in view of the tense situation there.

At the same time Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski was sending one of his top advisors to Ukraine, while anti-communist icon Lech Walesa also said he was ready to go.

Chilling Moscow-Brussels ties

As well as straining EU ties with Kiev, the crisis is also threatening to cool even further Europe's already-chilly relations with Moscow, Ukraine's former Soviet-era overlords.

The issue is almost certain to overshadow a long-planned EU-Russia summit in The Hague on Thursday.

"It is our duty to say loudly and clearly that we are not satisfied with the way the elections occured in Ukraine," Barroso said, adding that the EU would express its views "loudly, clearly and strongly" at the meeting. EU-Russia relations have been chilly at best of late. Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot sparked a diplomatic spat over the Beslan massacre in September by appearing to demand explanations. Chechnya has long been a sensitive point.

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