Improving bilateral relations will be in the spotlight of a meeting Wednesday between the prime ministers of Russia and Ukraine, RIA Novosti reported.

The two former Soviet stable mates have been at odds in the last two years and endured a crisis in relations over a gas-pricing dispute at the start of 2006. Russian energy giant Gazprom temporarily turned off natural-gas supplies of Kiev after the Ukrainian authorities refused to pay market prices for Russian natural gas.

But new Ukrainian premier Viktor Yanukovych, who is in Russia on his first foreign visit since he assumed his post August 4, indicated Kiev was seeking to improve ties with Moscow.

"We have to eliminate disproportion in the relations between Russia and Ukraine," Yanukovych said, adding that both countries should maintain and intensify intergovernmental contacts aimed at establishing a common economic space.

Pro-Western politicians in Ukraine have criticized the project, which also involves Kazakhstan and Belarus, for allegedly being Russia-dominated and detrimental to their push toward European integration.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said Moscow was satisfied with Yanukovych's desire to make relations with Russia a priority of Ukraine's foreign policy.

"Our governments have many objectives to accomplish: to increase trade turnover, coordinate efforts to join the WTO, establish market relations in the energy sector, and develop cooperation in aerospace industry," Fradkov said.

Russia hopes to complete negotiations on joining the World Trade Organization in fall and Ukraine is also hopeful of joining the global trade body before the year is out.

The Ukrainian prime minister, who ran in the 2004 presidential and 2006 parliamentary elections on a pro-Russian ticket but has toned down his enthusiasm a notch since beginning his second stint as premier, is also scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader is hosting a two-day informal meeting of the five-member post-Soviet Eurasian Economic Community.

The meeting is expected to discuss controversial issues of bilateral relations, including supplies of Russian natural gas to Ukraine and prepare the ground for a future meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents.


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