Viktor Yanukovych, the expected next Ukrainian president, says he cannot rule out Russia's Black Sea Fleet remaining in Ukraine after its lease on the Sevastopol naval base expires in 2017.
Preliminary results showed Yanukovych narrowly winning Ukraine's presidential election, and although the official count has not been released he has been congratulated by world leaders including the Russian and U.S. presidents.
The Party of Regions leader is expected to move Ukraine away from the determinedly pro-Western stance of President Viktor Yushchenko, who vowed that Russia would have to find a new main base for its Black Sea Fleet once the current deal expires.
"I do not rule it out," Yanukovych said in an interview with the Russia 24 TV news channel when asked if the Black Sea Fleet could remain in the Crimean port of Sevastopol after 2017.
"We will discuss this issue in the near future. This matter will not be decided at Russia's expense, it will be decided in the national interests of Ukraine. We will find a solution," Yanukovych said, noting that there were many issues involved that needed addressing, RIA Novosti reports.
Ukraine fully depends on Russian energy while Moscow is keen to keep its fleet in Sevastopol -- one of its last large foreign bases -- seeing it as a certain guarantee that Kiev will not join NATO, a prospect raised by Ukraine's outgoing pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko.
"We have to return to a friendly strategic format of our relations (with Russia) and work for the benefits of both countries," Yanukovich told state television Vesti-24.
Ukrainian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Yulia Timoshenko won’t call her supporters into the streets to protest the results of the country’s Feb. 7 run-off election, a close ally said.
Timoshenko lost to Viktor Yanukovych, receiving 45.47 percent of the vote to the opposition leader’s 48.95 percent, according to preliminary results. The Central Election Commission has until Feb. 17 to announce the official tally. Yanukovych received congratulations from leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, Bloomberg informs.