By Roman Olearchyk in Kiev, Financial Times
London, United Kingdom, Thursday, March 15 2007

KIEV - Faced with political gridlock at home, Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's pro-western president, will today row back on previous calls for speedy membership of the European Union.

In a speech in Denmark this evening, Mr Yushchenko is set to call for a fresh start in relations between Kiev and the EU, where opposition towards the eastward expansion of the bloc has been rising.

"Membership of the European Union remains our ultimate goal, but is not an end in itself," Mr Yushchenko said in statement released ahead of the visit.

Ukraine's desire to meet the criteria for EU membership "is driven primarily by an internal desire to create a stable, prosperous and democratic society", he said.

But he added: "We therefore need to focus on the substance of reform and integration and not become pre-occupied with the end point. If we get the substance right, the rest will take care of itself. This will be the basis for a breakthrough in the Ukraine-EU agenda."

This evening he is ex-pected to call for the establishment of a special panel of EU officials that could help steer Kiev towards western standards of democracy, prosperity and eventual membership within a decade.

The policy shift will be viewed as an attempt by the embattled president to shed his reputation as a "Euro-romantic" - a charge levelled at Mr Yushchenko by Viktor Yanukovich, prime minister, who is seen by many as pursuing pro-Russian policies.

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