Viktor Yanukovich will meet European Union leaders next Monday on his first foreign trip as Ukraine's president, opting to visit Brussels before Russia, an EU official said on Tuesday.
There was no immediate confirmation of the visit by Yanukovich, who has been closely linked with Russia but has been careful to avoid appearing too close to Moscow and has called for gradual integration with Europe.
Yanukovich has faced accusations by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whom he narrowly defeated in a presidential run-off ballot on Feb. 7, of having inherently anti-EU policies. He is due to be inaugurated on Thursday.
"He is coming on Monday," said the EU official, who declined to be identified. "Yanukovich wants to send a clear message to Europe by going to Europe on his first foreign trip."
Yanukovich's Regions Party and the Kremlin said last week he would go to Moscow in the first 10 days of March but did not give a date.
Yanukovich is widely expected to tilt Ukraine more towards Moscow after relations with Russia deteriorated under departing President Viktor Yushchenko, who sought membership of the Western military alliance NATO.
Yanukovich, the Moscow-backed candidate whose initial election victory was overturned by the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protest against electoral fraud, has also spoken of the importance of cooperation with the 27-member EU.
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The former Soviet republic of 46 million people is squeezed between Russia and the EU, and is a vital transit route for Russian energy supplies to Europe.
Yanukovich would meet EU President Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels, the official said. He was also expected to meet foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
NATO membership is not on the agenda for now and there is little appetite in the EU for Ukraine joining in the near future.
There was no comment from Yanukovich's press service. Official confirmation of the destination of his first foreign trip as president is likely only after he is sworn in.
A close aide to Yanukovich, Hannah Herman, said discussions were still under way on where he should travel first.
"We must wait to see what the president says -- what is more useful and important for the country," the UNIAN news agency quoted her as saying.
ReutersLast Mod: 23 Şubat 2010, 20:55