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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kuchma Achieves Stunning Reversal, Seeks Russia Link

KIEV -- Former Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma, an advocate of closer ties with Russia, scored a stunning presidential election victory Monday over incumbent Leonid Kravchuk and pledged to bridge the gap between Ukraine's nationalists and conservatives.

Provisional figures for Sunday's vote released by the Central Election Commission on Monday gave Kuchma just over 52 percent of the vote, compared to 45 percent for Kravchuk -- a gap of more than 2.5 million votes.

Parliamentary officials said Kuchma would be inaugurated as post-Soviet Ukraine's second president on July 19.

"Everything that happened during the campaign was criminal in terms of confrontation between east and west," Kuchma said after flying to Kiev from his base of Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine.

"If we act intelligently, we can overcome this split. If we use the principle that things will only get worse, then they will indeed get worse."

Kravchuk was ousted from office by voters protesting against two years of steep economic decline.

The standard-bearer of nationalist hopes, he was far ahead in the west but by too little to offset Kuchma's scores in the densely populated industrial east, where he won two-thirds of the vote. His surprisingly strong performance in central farming districts tipped the balance.

Kuchma, who accused Kravchuk during the campaign of "plundering" Ukraine, attributed his victory to Kravchuk's failure to stop an economic tailspin which has cast millions into poverty since independence in 1991.

"If he had admitted (the problems), not just spoken about a sovereign state and instead spoken about a sovereign economy, things might have been different," he said.

"The main issue is the economy and that there is now authority in the country."Kravchuk failed to appear in public after proclamation of the results. Alexander Yemets, chairman of the Central Election Committee, said he had "accepted the consequences of the vote with dignity."

Ukraine's regional split, underscored by the election outcome, will be one of the most daunting tasks facing the new president.

Kuchma is viewed with deep suspicion by nationalists who see his call for better ties with Moscow as the first step in unravelling hard-won Ukrainian independence.

Kravchuk, a former communist ideology chief, led Ukraine to independence in 1991.

Viewed at the time as a compromise between nationalists and conservatives, he won election on the day Ukrainians voted nine to one in a referendum in favor of breaking from Moscow.

But four post-Soviet governments under his direction failed to draw up a comprehensive package of reforms and living standards fell far below those in neighboring Russia.

An offer of $4 billion in aid for Ukraine's collapsing economy from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations meeting in Naples appeared to have little effect on voters.

Kuchma, for six years director of the world's largest missile plant in Dnipropetrovsk, was prime minister for 11 months before resigning last September.

He complained for months in office that parliament and government ministers were blocking his reform plans.

Kravchuk finished first in a seven-man field in the first round of voting two weeks ago, 7 percent ahead of Kuchma. During a sometimes acrimonious campaign he stressed his role as a statesman capable of integrating Ukraine with the West.