Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a front runner in a presidential election on Sunday, said onJan. 14she wanted to take the former Soviet republic into the European Union within five years.
President Victor Yushchenko had made membership of the EU and the NATO military alliance the cornerstone of his foreign policy, after he was swept to power by the 2004 "Orange Revolution".
But EU enthusiasm for Ukraine has turned to frustration at the constant political turmoil that has plagued the country since 2004, especially the bitter and debilitating rows between former allies Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.
The wealthy bloc does not officially recognised Ukraine as a candidate. The EU is still assimilating 12 mostly ex-communist central European states it admitted in 2004 and 2007, and few believe Ukrainian membership within five years is remotely realistic.
"We are building Europe in Ukraine and this means a deep and systematic transformation," Tymoshenko, trailing former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich in the last permitted opinion polls, told a news conference.
"I will do everything so that during the five years when I will be president, Ukraine becomes a member of the EU."
Yushchenko's drive to bring the country closer to the West and forge a Ukrainian identity and history have led to tense relations with Moscow.
The incumbent appears to have little chances of progressing beyond Sunday's first round, according to the last permitted opinion survey published before a Jan. 2 blackout.
Tymoshenko has established cordial ties with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, drawing accusations from Yushchenko's camp of being Moscow's stooge and part of a "Kremlin project" to gain control over the country.
Putin and Tymoshenko put an end to a three-week row over gas prices in January 2009 by signing a 10-year gas supply deal. The so-called "gas war" led to supply cuts to Europe, leaving millions out in the cold and shutting down factories.
Russia sends a fifth of all gas supplies that the EU consumes through Ukraine and European politicians were shocked that the so-called "gas war" between two non-EU members had affected their countries in such a way.
"... Ukraine, as a gas transit state, is and will be a reliable partner, and the contract that was signed between Ukraine and Russia for 10 years is the legal basis of this stability and predictability," Tymoshenko said.
Yanukovich and Yushchenko have both criticised the deal as forcing Ukraine to pay too much for gas and said they wanted to renegotiate its terms.
Yanukovich was the Moscow-backed victor in a flawed 2004 presidential poll that was later declared fraudulent after weeks of street protests.
He has taken advantage of the disillusionment in the "Orange" camp and is expected to top the poll on Sunday and face Tymoshenko in a runoff on Feb. 7.
The nation of 46 million on the doorstep of the EU is negotiating a new Association Agreement with the 27-member bloc and is part of its Eastern Partnership programme -- both aimed at closer political ties and economic co-operation.
But unlike some Western Balkans states and Turkey, Ukraine does not have EU candidate status. While immediate neighbours such as Poland are enthusiastic, EU powerhouses France and Germany are more sceptical about its membership prospects.
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