Ukraine disappoints Russia on Georgia rebel regions
President Viktor Yanukovych said Friday for the first time Ukraine was against recognizing Georgia's rebel regions, dashing Russian hopes Kiev will support one of Moscow's most controversial policies.
Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent after fighting a brief war in August 2008 with Georgia over their status, but its hotly-contested move has only been followed by a handful of distant states.
Yanukovych -- a pro-Russian figure who defeated the leaders of the pro-West Orange Revolution in February elections -- said the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as that of Kosovo, were against international law.
"I have never recognized Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Kosovo as independent states. This is a violation of international laws and norms," he told reporters at a news conference to mark his first 100 days in power.
"According to international law, any violation of the territorial integrity of any state if forbidden."
The president said he had never "in any interview" supported actions which violated the borders of states.
While in opposition in 2008, Yanukovych declared that Ukraine should "accept the will" of the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and "recognize their independence," according to the website of his party.
The recognition of Kosovo by Western powers and most of the EU infuriated Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, and analysts believe this encouraged Russian recognition of the Georgian breakaway regions.
Yanukovych's comments appear aimed at emphasizing his vision of Ukraine as a neutral, non-aligned state, which while ditching the previous government's aim to join NATO will also not join Russian-led military alliances.
The day earlier, parliament had voted to formally end the ambition to join NATO espoused by the administration of previous President Viktor Yushchenko -- a goal which had deeply riled Russia.
Carefully balanced neutrality between East and West was the flagship policy of Ukraine's second post-independence president, Leonid Kuchma.
Since taking power, Yanukovych has moved with blistering speed to reinforce ties with Moscow, agreeing a deal to extend the stay of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine in an exchange for a huge discount on gas prices.
But there have been signs Kiev is nervous at the speed of events, notably after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin astonished his Ukrainian counterpart with an impromptu announcement their state gas firms should merge.
© 2010 AFP