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CNN exclusive: Ukraine's Yanukovich: I'm no Kremlin stooge

By Matthew Chance, CNN
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The return of Yanukovich
  • Victor Yanukovich calls on his rival to accept the election result
  • Results show Yulia Tymoshenko narrowly defeated in presidential vote
  • Yanukovich is widely seen as having close ties to Moscow

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- The man leading Ukraine's presidential election called on his rival Tuesday to accept defeat, and he vowed to unite Ukraine after an election that has split the country in two.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Victor Yanukovich also said any decisions he makes as president will be in the national interest of Ukraine, not Russia.

With 99.98 percent of the votes from Sunday's election counted, Yanukovich has 48.96 percent. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has 45.47 percent, according to the country's Central Election Commission.

Tymoshenko refuses to concede defeat and plans to demand a recount in some districts where, she says, voting irregularities took place, officials from her party said Tuesday.

Yanukovich called on his rival to accept the election result.

"This country has been democratic for five years and that's been proven again by this election," he told CNN. "Yulia Tymoshenko is betraying the principles of her Orange Revolution" by failing to acknowledge defeat.

Yanukovich was declared the winner of the presidential election in 2004, but after a pro-Western uprising known as the Orange Revolution, his win was annulled. The election was run again, and current President Victor Yushchenko won.

Compared to the Western-leaning Yushchenko, Yanukovich has been seen as having close ties to Russia. That opinion was helped in 2004 when then-Russian President Vladimir Putin became the first world leader to congratulate Yanukovich on his victory, a full two days before the electoral commission declared him president-elect.

Yanukovich told CNN on Tuesday that he would not do the bidding of Russia while he is president of Ukraine, and said he is no Kremlin stooge.

His policy, he said, "would be a policy based on mutual interest and good relations with both Russia and the European Union."

His priority with Russia, he said, would be to focus on stable energy supplies. With the EU, he said, he wants to take steps toward a free trade agreement and bring European standards of living to Ukraine.

In the past, Yanukovich has strongly opposed attempts by Ukraine to join the NATO alliance -- something Yushchenko favored. Tuesday, however, Yanukovich opened the door to NATO, even if just a little.

He would "continue to cooperate with NATO, but joining the alliance must be decided by the people of Ukraine in a referendum," he said.

The priorities of his administration will be to overcome the economic crisis in the country through economic reforms and overcoming corruption, he said.

Yanukovich has already called on Tymoshenko to begin preparations to step down and accept defeat.

Pro-Western Orange leaders like Tymoshenko talked a great deal but did very little, he said, accounting for her defeat.

Yanukovich accounted for his dramatic comeback by saying voters remembered how he was able to improve the economy in the past. He said people voted for him because they believe he can improve the economy.

Though accused of corruption in the past, Yanukovich said he offers the changes that Ukrainians want.

Asked about his vision for the country over the next decade, Yanukovich said he aims to unite Ukraine and make it one of the top 20 economies in the world.