Lavrov said that the relations between the Kremlin and Kiev should be "kept on an ascending path."

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko told Russia's top diplomat on Monday that the two former Soviet republics should work to ensure that their relationship benefits them both.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov traveled to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Monday in an effort to reshape relations after a new, Western-leaning leadership took office. His visit came on the eve of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's trip to Brussels for a summit meeting with NATO leaders.

At the opening of her meeting with Lavrov, Tymoshenko said that the leaders of Russia and Ukraine "should work to make sure that relations between the two countries are mutually beneficial," underlining Kiev's sensitivity to Russia's previous perceived attempts to dictate rather than negotiate policies.

"Fine relations between the two governments should be developed at this meeting," she said.

Lavrov said that the relations between the Kremlin and Kiev should be "kept on an ascending path."

On Sunday, Lavrov said Russia should accept the efforts of former Soviet republics seeking to mold their foreign policies separately from its own and said that Moscow now considers Ukraine and Georgia to be outside its orbit.

"As far as the transformation of these countries from the 'near abroad' to the 'abroad' is concerned, we view them as absolutely sovereign, absolutely equal states in the new geopolitical architecture," Lavrov said in a televised statement.

The statement appeared to suggest that the two countries were no longer among the ex-Soviet republics Russia considers its natural allies, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Russia has watched warily as Ukraine and Georgia have sought to follow in the footsteps of the three Baltic countries, deepening ties with Western organizations such as the European Union and NATO and moving out from under Russia's shadow.

Although he repeatedly said he wants Ukraine to become a full member of the EU and eventually join NATO, Yushchenko has reiterated that "Russia remains an eternal and strategic partner."

Among the issues under discussion by Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk will be a free-trade zone, a final resolution of a dispute involving the Kerch Strait connecting the Azov and Black Seas, the status of Russia's Black Sea naval fleet, which is based in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, and the two countries' cooperation in the energy sphere, said Markian Lubkivsky, a spokesman for Ukraine's Foreign Ministry.

Russia is Europe's largest single supplier of natural gas, most of which is transported through Ukrainian pipelines.

Lubkivsky also said that Lavrov and Tarasiuk would discuss arrangements for a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. No date for the visit has been set.

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