The winner of Ukraine's bitterly-fought presidential poll, Yushchenko, moved Tuesday to repair damage to relations with Russia while his opponent, Yanukovych, persisted in blaming the West for his defeat.
Victory for the wronged Viktor
Ukraine's top government officials on Tuesday sided with Western observers' positive assessment of Sunday's presidential election, dismissing the judgment of Russia-led monitors who said Sunday's re-run election was riddled with fraud just like the previous, now-discredited Nov. 21 contest.
Ukraine's pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, 50, who won the election according to official resultsafter leading the country's "orange revolution," said he would now focus on restoring relations with Moscow in interviews with several Russian dailies.
"We can and we must turn a page on this if we are friends and prepared to look each other in the eye," he said in an interview with leading Russian daily Izvestia. Yushchenko said he really didn't like the fact that "Russia campaigned actively in favor of" his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. But, he acknowledged that Ukraine and Russia were closely bound, even if he planned to build closer ties with western Europe.
"Kiev has to say openly that Russia is our close neighbor, our strategic partner, and we need to integrate with it,. But, the Western market interests us and it doesn't contradict our relations with Moscow," he told Russian government daily Rossiskaya Gazeta.
Yanukovych questions rival's victory
Yushchenko's claim to victory in the election was bolstered Tuesday as the central election commission released results based on reporting from all the country's precincts showing that he took 51.99 percent of the vote compared to 44.19 percent for Yanukovych.
That victory however cannot be formally certified until legal challenges to it have been examined and the election commission issues a definitive declaration of his win.
Yanukovych, who announced Monday that he planned to contest the outcome of the weekend vote, continued to blame outsiders, particularly the United States, for his loss.
"The American influence in the Ukrainian elections was systematic and planned" and favored Yushchenko, Yanukovych said in a separate interview with Izvestia. "I consider that to be interference in Ukraine's internal affairs."
At the same time he also reiterated his plan to lead an opposition movement if his rival's victory is officially certified as expected. The 54-year-old government candidate who has vowed to take his dispute of the vote to the supreme court ended a temporary leave and returned to his post as prime minister, a spokesman said. The move that means he can be legally dismissed by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma. Under Ukrainian law, no one can be fired while on vacation or other leave from their job.
Wrangling over election outcome
Geert Ahrens, OSCE Ambassador to Ukraine
While more international observers endorsed the legitimacy of the re-run election held Sunday, Russia again attacked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), voicing doubts about the pan-European security body's "objectivity" in assessing the Ukraine vote.
Discrepancies in the verdicts of Western-led monitors and those from the ex-Soviet bloc "make one wonder about the objectivity of international observer missions in various countries," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said in Moscow.
A Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman, Markkyan Lubkivsky, was quoted by Interfax as saying, however that Russian monitors' assertion that the re-run vote was marred by fraud reflected "either a political agenda or a lack of professionalism" on their part. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said: "This election was democratic."
The election commission chairman, Yaroslav Davydovich, admitted that he had received "very many" complaints about the vote, and added that "some warrant investigation."
A wake-up call for Russia?
Supporters of Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko celebrate
A top advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile praised the Ukraine election and said it should be a wake-up call for Russia.
"Ukraine is our most important partner in showing us that we can get rid of our complex about empire," Andrei Illarionov told reporters in Moscow. "Russia cannot become truly democratic and develop economically unless it ceases to be an empire. "We would like to congratulate Ukrainians because they have helped themselves, but they have also helped us considerably."