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Yanukovych Says Ukraine Ready For Russian Fleet, Gas Deals

Viktor Yanukovych: "We have to return to a friendly strategic format of our relations [with Russia] and work for the benefits of both countries."
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Ukraine may allow Russia to station its Black Sea Fleet in the port of Sevastopol beyond a scheduled withdrawal in 2017, Viktor Yanukovych, who won the presidential election last Sunday, told Russian television.

Opposition leader Yanukovych, who beat current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the second round by a narrow margin, also said he was keen to improve gas relations with Russia and would revive the idea of a gas consortium that would allow Moscow to co-manage Ukrainian pipelines.

Ukraine fully depends on Russian energy while Moscow is keen to keep its fleet in Sevastopol -- one of its last large foreign bases -- seeing it as a certain guarantee that Kyiv will not join NATO, a prospect raised by Ukraine's outgoing pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko.

"We have to return to a friendly strategic format of our relations [with Russia] and work for the benefits of both countries," Yanukovych told state television Vesti-24.

"It is very important that we study many questions, I would say, in one package," Yanukovych said, adding that he did not rule out that the Black Sea Fleet could be allowed to continue using Sevastopol after 2017.

Many analysts have said Yanukovych has to offer Moscow concessions on the Black Sea Fleet to persuade Moscow to lower gas prices to help Ukraine's strained public finances.

Yanukovych repeated he would try to persuade Moscow not to build new pipelines to reduce gas transit through Ukraine.

He may propose instead that Moscow and the European Union co-manage Ukrainian pipelines to boost supply security and avoid a repeat of disputes of recent years that led to supply cuts to the EU, which gets a quarter of its gas needs from Russia.

Moscow had said it could increase supplies via Ukraine if it was allowed to co-own and manage gas pipelines, but Ukraine adopted a law forbidding their privatization.

Since then Moscow decided to increase supplies bypassing Ukraine and two gas crises with Kyiv under Yushchenko only spurred key projects, Nord Stream and South Stream, which will deliver gas under the Baltic and Black Sea to Europe's north and south.

If the consortium was created, "They [Russia and the EU] would get access to control and management of the gas transportation system and thus get energy security guarantees," said Yanukovych.

"And this would fully suit us because we would not be loosing transit volumes and that would mean that our economic interests would be met," he added.