Viktor Yanukovych, speaking in Ukraine's Russian-speaking Crimea, said such a decision could be made by the constitutional majority in the Ukrainian parliament or through nationwide referendum.
"Both of these steps are unrealistic at the current stage," he said, as his supporters would not be able to gain a constitutional majority in the Supreme Rada, and referendums are "a procedure controlled by the president."
Yanukovych said Ukraine needed a law "that would regulate the use of the Russian language and enable the European Charter for [Regional or Minority] Languages to be applied in Ukraine."
The status of the Russian language, along with NATO membership, was one of the hotly-debated issues that delayed the signing of a national unity agreement on key policy areas by President Viktor Yushchenko and parliamentary leaders before Yanukovych's appointment as prime minister last Friday. The sides eventually agreed to keep Ukrainian as the main state language, without entrenching it as the only official language.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, the premier, whose first language is Russian, highlighted the problem of discrimination against the Russian language in Ukraine. "We must create conditions to give people who are used to speaking Russian the possibility of using it in their everyday lives," he said, adding that the Ukrainian language should also be developed in the Russian-speaking southeastern regions of Ukraine.