NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday congratulated Viktor Yanukovych on his election as Ukrainian president and said the alliance wanted closer ties with Ukraine.
"On behalf of NATO, I warmly congratulate Viktor Yanukovych on his election as president of Ukraine. The elections were free, fair and democratic, and an example for the region," Rasmussen said in a statement.
Yanukovych narrowly won Sunday's second round with 48.95% of the vote, according to preliminary results announced Wednesday. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko received 45.47% of the vote. Official results will be released by February 17.
"NATO is committed to deepening our strategic partnership with Ukraine, including by assisting, where possible, Ukraine's reform efforts, and I personally look forward to working closely with President Yanukovych," the NATO chief said.
Yanukovych is known for his strong opposition to NATO, and when prime minister in 2006 he said his government would suspend negotiations on membership in the alliance.
Reversing the country's drift away from Russia was part of Yanukovych's campaign platform, and he said after the election his government would prioritize relations with Russia and other CIS countries.
Making Ukraine part of the alliance was a cherished goal of Yanukovych's long-time opponent, outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko.
Yushchenko set the country on a pro-Western course after beating Yanukovych in the previous presidential election, and consistently pushed for Ukraine to join NATO.
The formal basis for NATO-Ukraine relations is the 1997 Charter on a Distinctive Partnership, which established the NATO-Ukraine Commission.
At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, allied leaders agreed that in future Ukraine "will become a NATO member" but noted that it is up to the Ukrainian people and their elected leaders to determine the country's future path with NATO.
In December 2008, NATO foreign ministers welcomed progress made by Ukraine towards meeting membership requirements, but concluded that the country still had work to do.
BRUSSELS, February 12 (RIA Novosti)