Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had supported Yushchenko’s opponent, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, immediately extended an olive branch to the president-elect.
“Accept my congratulations and warmest wishes in connection with your election to the post of president of Ukraine,” Putin said in a statement. “The development of good-neighborly and equal relations with Ukraine is one of the most important national priorities of Russia.”
Outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, a close ally of Putin and supporter of Yanukovich, also sent his congratulations to Yushchenko.
The pro-Western Yushchenko has said he will build closer alliances with Europe and the United States, pulling the country away from Russia’s historic influence.
But Yushchenko also appears ready to smooth relations with Russia. He announced his first foreign visit will be to Moscow.
The vote to schedule the inauguration came Thursday, shortly after the Ukrainian Supreme Court rejected Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich’s appeal of the results of last month’s election, in which Yushchenko defeated Yanukovich 52 percent to 44 percent. The court rejected Yanukovich’s assertion that millions of citizens were deprived of their right to vote. The December 26 vote was the second attempt to at electing a Ukrainian president.
Results of initial balloting in November were disputed when international election observers said an apparent victory by Yanukovich was gained through widespread fraud and vote tampering. Western governments and Yushchenko supporters urged a new election.
When Ukrainian election officials certified the vote in the face of those objections, tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters took to the streets in protest.
Yushchenko’s campaign also took the matter to court, pointing to regions of the country where the results appeared problematic or fraudulent. The Ukrainian Supreme Court nullified the election, saying rampant voter fraud in several parts of the country required a new election.
A bitter campaign led up to the Dec. 26 re-vote with Yanukovich accusing his opponents of trying to steal the election. On Thursday Yanukovich supporters said they would appeal the Supreme Court’s decision to the European Court of Human Rights.
Yushchenko’s swearing in ceremony will be held in Kiev’s Independence Square, where tens of thousands of his supporters protested the results of the original election.