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Timoshenko expects early Ukraine elections, return to power

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko said she expects the political forces that triggered the Orange Revolution of 2004 will team up again to form a new government this year.

Early elections will probably take place in the autumn and Timoshenko's alliance and President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party will win a majority of seats, Timoshenko predicted in an interview in Washington D.C. on March 2. Timoshenko expects to return to the post of prime minister by year-end, pledging to bring the former Soviet republic into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and improve ties with the European Union. Current Premier Viktor Yanukovych has sought to rekindle links with Russia since winning elections a year ago. „Ukraine must have a strategy aimed at integration into European and transatlantic structures, and this is the joint position of both parties at the current talks,” Timoshenko said. „The government is consciously giving up on Ukraine's national interests, particularly in energy.” Timoshenko was Yushchenko's first prime minister after the Orange Revolution overturned Yanukovych's victory in presidential elections that were deemed unfair by independent observers. She was fired in September 2005, after accusing the president's key allies of corruption. Those accused were also dismissed.

The popularity of the Orange alliance plunged following the split and Yanukovych, whose presidential bid had been backed by Russia, took advantage of the divisions to win elections in March. The parties of Yushchenko and Timoshenko would win 142 seats in a 450-seat parliament if an election was held now, according to a February 2-9 survey of 2,011 people by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center for Economy and Politics Studies. The poll had a margin of error of 2.3%. Yanukovych's party would win 131 seats. Yanukovych became prime minister in August after four months of political deadlock. Since then, he and the president have been battling over domestic and foreign policies with Yanukovych pushing the parliament to fire ministers loyal to Yushchenko. The president's party and Timoshenko say the government was formed in an illegal way, which could be a reason to call early elections. Russia, the world's largest energy producer, is using its energy resources to wield influence over former Soviet satellites. It halted deliveries of crude oil to the European Union via Belarus two months ago. As a result, Belarus agreed to let Russia control a 50% stake in its gas pipeline management company.

In July, Russia cut off crude supplies to AB Mazeikiu Nafta, the only refinery in the Baltic states. Early last year, it turned off Moldovan and Ukrainian natural-gas supplies in another price dispute, disrupting deliveries throughout Europe. Yanukovych's government is negotiating with Russian companies to let them control Ukraine's energy companies, including those controlling pipelines that carry most of Russia's gas exports to Europe, Timoshenko said. „We believe that Ukraine should not be alone in fighting this energy terrorism,” Timoshenko said. „It is in the interests of European countries.” Timoshenko met US Vice President Dick Cheney on March 1 and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a day later. She said Western countries should help Ukraine attract investments and build a $5 billion pipeline that would bypass Russia and ship gas from the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to Europe.

„There is a mutual understanding of Ukraine's role, as it is a leader of the democratic process in the region,” Timoshenko said. Ukraine is „a country that represents hope for the diversification of energy supplies to Europe,” she said. The construction of the pipeline would take about three years and follow a route from the Caspian Sea through Georgia and onward to Europe via Ukraine, she said. Yanukovych told NATO on his first visit to Brussels that Ukraine doesn't want to join the alliance. „We should not allow a re-directing of Ukraine away from integration into Europe” and NATO, Timoshenko said. „Such a risk does exist.” She accused the government of waging an anti-NATO propaganda campaign and pledged to drop it if she becomes prime minister again, though she declined to comment on when Ukraine may join. „If power is changed, there will be a possibility to begin the process” of joining NATO, she said. „How fast it will be, will depend on how fast stereotypes about NATO will be changed” within Ukraine. (Bloomberg)