Now the priority is to restore Russian relationship

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The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, will put on a brave face today and welcome Viktor Yushchenko to the Kremlin despite openly backing his defeated opponent.

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, will put on a brave face today and welcome Viktor Yushchenko to the Kremlin despite openly backing his defeated opponent.

Mr Yushchenko's decision to make Moscow the destination of his first foreign trip is viewed as a strong signal that he wishes to repair relations with Russia, which have been badly damaged in the past few months.

Although it will be all smiles and handshakes, inwardly, Mr Putin is likely to be smarting. He openly backed Viktor Yanuko-vych, Mr Yushchenko's arch-rival. The Russian leader has poured scorn on the protesters who propelled Mr Yushchenko to power and accused the West of meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs.

Nor do the Russians have much time for Julia Tymo-shenko, Mr Yushchenko's radical ally who may be Ukraine's new prime minister. In fact, they accuse her of corrupting and bribing Russian officials and want to question her.

Much is at stake for both countries. Russia is Ukraine's biggest trading partner and the chief supplier of its energy needs, and most people in eastern Ukraine speak Russian.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet is also based at Sebastopol in Ukraine and Moscow will be keen to extract assurances that the lease arrangement will be preserved.

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