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Russia To Send Envoy To Ukraine, Ending Freeze


Former Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov is the new ambassador to Ukraine.

Former Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov is the new ambassador to Ukraine.

(RFE/RL) -- Russia today finalized the appointment of its ambassador to Ukraine, ending a five-month diplomatic freeze with Kyiv.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made the announcement at a partly televised meeting with the envoy, Mikhail Zurabov.

"I think you should begin your duties as our ambassador to Ukraine and try to do your utmost to strengthen the friendly character of our relations," Medvedev said.

Medvedev also named Zurabov as the special presidential envoy for trade and economic ties.

The move follows the defeat of Ukraine's pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko in the first-round presidential election on January 17, which set up a February 7 runoff between opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Both are seen as friendlier to Moscow than Yushchenko, who had clashed with the Kremlin on a range of issues in recent months.

In a thinly veiled jab at Yushchenko, Medvedev today voiced hope that Ukraine's future leader will be more "constructive."

"I hope after the final results [of the presidential election] are determined, Ukraine will have a viable and effective leadership that is prepared to establish a constructive, friendly, multifaceted relationship with the Russian Federation," Medvedev said.

Medvedev appointed Zurabov ambassador in August 2009, but a few days later wrote to Yushchenko that Russia would not be sending its envoy to protest Kyiv's "anti-Russian" policies.

Strained Ties

Ties with Ukraine have sharply deteriorated since the pro-Western 2004 Orange Revolution that brought Yushchenko to power.

Yushchenko's nationalist policies and pursuit of NATO membership have long angered Moscow. His support for Georgia in the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia and his passionate campaign for a Stalin-era famine that killed millions of Ukrainians to be recognized as genocide have contributed to further tensions.

But Yushchenko has become unpopular at home too, where many blame him for failing to bring about promised reforms and pull the country out of a crippling economic crisis. He won only about five percent of the vote in the first-round poll.

With Yushchenko out of the way, the Kremlin now appears eager to restore ties with Ukraine.

"The delay in sending Zurabov as ambassador to Ukraine was linked to Medvedev's personal relations with Yushchenko,” says Yevgeny Volk, a Moscow-based political analyst. “By sending Zurabov now that it is clear that Yushchenko has no chance of becoming president, the Kremlin is sending a clear signal to both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko that it is ready to engage in dialogue with them, to cooperate with them, and expects them to recognize Moscow's interests."

But Moscow also had words of warning for Ukraine's future president.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier today called on the eventual winner not to make relations with Moscow "hostage to their own, or someone else's, political ambitions."
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