President Putin (file photo)
21 October 2004 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to visit Ukraine next week, three days ahead of a hotly contested presidential election in that country, outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's office has announced.
Putin's visit is tied to the 60th anniversary of Kyiv's liberation from the Nazis in World War II, the statement says.
Kuchma backs Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the presidential election, which takes place on 31 October. Supporters of the western-leaning opposition leader running for president, Viktor Yushchenko, said Putin's visit is a gesture of support for the government-backed candidate.
Putin, meeting with Kuchma in Moscow on 9 October, said Russia "is not indifferent to the choice that the people of Ukraine will make in the presidential election."
Russian media have also accused Moscow officials and the Kremlin of a "massive campaign" aimed at supporting Yanukovych's candidacy among Ukrainian voters who reside in Russia.
Yanukovych said yesterday that invitations to the anniversary celebrations went out to all leaders of former Soviet republics, but he said he would be "thankful" if Putin supported him.