After a bitterly-fought election campaign, Viktor Yanukovych became Ukraine's fourth president since independence on Thursday. His rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, still refuses to recognize his election.
Yanukovych aims to improve ties with Russia and the EU
Five years after being humiliated by electoral fraud and the popular "Orange Revolution," Viktor Yanukovych became Ukraine's new president after being sworn at the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv on Thursday.
In a statement after taking the oath of office, he outlined his foreign policy plans.
"The challenges that the international community faces mean we have to join together in a larger format," he said. "We are ready to participate in this process as a European, non-aligned state."
Yanukovych beat out former Orange Revolution leader and current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on February 7 in a runoff election dubbed free and fair by international observers. While his narrow 3.5 percent margin victory seems clear, he gained only about a third of the votes, and is Ukraine's first president to receive less than 50 percent of the electorate.
Tymoshenko decided to drop a legal challenge to the election on Saturday but still has refused to recognize the results or resign as prime minister.
Yanukovych is generally seen as a strong ally to Russia, but he has also said he wants to improve ties with the European Union. He is scheduled to make his first foreign visit as president to Brussels on March 1 before visiting Moscow shortly thereafter.
His predecessor Viktor Yushchenko's plans of joining NATO are likely to be pushed aside, and there seems to be little desire in the EU to add Ukraine as a new member.
Instead, Yanukovych says he wants to make Ukraine a strong, independent and neutral country. Both he and Tymoshenko campaigned on better relations with Russia, Ukraine's former Soviet master.
Despite all the attention paid to Yanukovych's closeness to Moscow, much of his electoral success can be attributed to internal politics and voter disillusionment with the Orange Revolution.
Ukraine has been one of the European countries worst affected by the economic crisis, a fact which Yanukovych addressed in his inauguration speech.
"The country is in a very difficult situation," said Yanukovych. "There is no current year's state budget, foreign debt is huge, there is poverty, the economy is in ruins, there is corruption."
Yanukovych largely benefited from the previous government's inability to pull the Ukraine out of recession.
In a television interview before the inauguration, Yanukovych denounced his rivals.
"I have done everything to stop this madness for the past five years," he said. "The aim of the so-called Orange Revolution ... was to weaken Russia but not to strengthen our state."
Editor: Andreas Illmer