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Putin: Russia Would Not Object to Ukraine Joining EU  - 2004-12-10

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia would not object to Ukraine joining the European Union. He says it would help the Russian economy to closer integrate into the EU. The Russian leader's comments follow weeks of heated rhetoric between Russia and the European Union over Ukraine's disputed presidential election.

Vladimir Putin said after talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that issues of EU enlargement do not concern Russia.

Mr. Putin said that Russia had a special relationship with Ukraine, which included inter-linked economies and a very high degree of industrial cooperation. He said he hoped that the inclusion of that part of the economy into the European Union would have a positive effect on Russia, as well. However, he acknowledged that Ukraine is unlikely to be invited to join the EU in the next 10 years.

But his remarks come after weeks of confrontation between Moscow and Brussels over the disputed presidential elections in Ukraine, where the pro-Moscow candidate, Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich was declared the winner. Supporters of pro-Western opposition leader Victor Yushchenko held large-scale rallies in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Ukraine's supreme court invalidated the results of the run-off election, and a new vote is scheduled for the end of this month.

Moscow traditionally views the former Soviet republic as its sphere of influence. It chose to support Prime Minister Yanukovich, as he is expected to pursue closer ties with Russia, while Victor Yushchenko said he would lead Ukraine toward Western Europe and even enter NATO.

Analysts in Moscow say the dispute over the Ukrainian presidential poll has sent relations between Russia and the West to their lowest point of Vladimir Putin's time in office. Moscow accused the West of interfering into Ukraine's internal affairs, while Vladimir Putin himself traveled to Kiev twice in the course of the presidential campaign and was the first leader to congratulate Prime Minister Yanukovich on his victory, despite accusations of vote-rigging.