During the symbolic trip, undertaken only 24 hours after his inauguration, President Yushchenko said while he would take historic ties with Russia in a new direction, Moscow would remain an “eternal strategic partner”.
The words were welcomed by President Putin, who said it’d been a “great pleasure” to meet the new Ukrainian leader, adding it was “a good sign” he’d used his first presidential trip outside Ukraine to visit neighbouring Russia.
Yushchenko later declared himself satisfied with his talks with Putin, who openly supported his opponent in the election.
Asked whether he had managed to break the ice, he replied “I think I succeeded.”
The fight for power in Ukraine, a country of 48 million people sitting on Russia’s south western border, triggered several Cold War style tirades from Moscow.
President Yushchenko nearly died from poisoning during the election campaign and won only after a mass popular revolt in the streets of Kiev, that eventually led Ukraine in a new direction.
The charismatic leader was elected in an unprecedented second poll on December 26th.
The re-run election was ordered after an earlier vote, officially won by his pro-Russian opponent who was publicly backed by Moscow, was ruled fraudulent and annulled by the Ukrainian courts.
This led to President Putin accusing the West late last year of meddling in Ukraine to reduce Russia’s centuries-old influence there.
But on Tuesday, Russia’s leader was anxious to consign those outbursts to history.
“You of course know well that Russia has never worked in an underhanded way in the post-Soviet space, including with the opposition,” President Putin said as the two leaders began talks at the Kremlin.
“We do not work around an acting government. This applies fully to Ukraine. Recently we did only that which was asked of us by the Ukrainian government in power.”
President Yushchenko accommodated, saying Ukraine’s “relations could be better, different” than they have been in the past with Russia and said that was the “main goal of my visit” to Moscow.
“It would be nice to turn the pages that weren’t written in the best way — the pages that still have some misunderstandings — those that we shouldn’t include in the arsenal of our strategic relations,” he said.
But even as their talks began, President Yushchenko showed his independence by naming a prime minister regarded with suspicion by Moscow.
It was announced he’d made Yulia Timoshenko, a fiery former opposition leader who helped spearhead the “orange revolution” that brought him to power, as his acting prime minister.
The 44-year-old is regarded even by her opponents as a gifted politician.
But while she is revered in the nationalist, Ukrainian-speaking west of the country where President Yushchenko’s support is strongest, she is equally reviled in the Russian-speaking east.
Her appointment, which is still subject to approval by the Ukrainian parliament, was certain to rile some Russian officials.
The Kremlin regards her as a fugitive from justice by Russia where she is wanted in connection with a criminal bribery investigation dating back to the 1990s.