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Putin, In Ukraine, Praises Government Days Before Election

Putin's (pictured) visit is widely viewed as an endorsement of Yanukovych 26 October 2004 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin made a live appearance on Ukrainian television tonight in which he praised the government, five days before Ukraine's presidential election.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is a pro-Russian candidate in the presidential election, and his strongest rival is Western-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko.

Putin told television viewers from a studio in Kyiv that the government has made progress on social and pension reform. He also responded to a viewer's question about Russia's stance on supporting a political force in Ukraine whose goal is to bring Russia and Ukraine closer.

"We would be happy if such forces in Ukraine grew stronger and achieved their goals. But to initiate and to support political forces inside Ukraine from abroad, especially from Russia, is particularly dangerous, counterproductive and it could produce a reverse effect," Putin said. "The process should begin from within, it should originate inside Ukrainian society."

Putin will be in Ukraine for the next two days, and the visit is likely to be seen as an endorsement of Yanukovych.

His visit comes amid continued tension between the government and opposition supporters.

Thousands of students turned out today in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to protest what they called repressive acts in recent weeks by the government against opposition activists.

Putin came to Kyiv on the basis of an invitation by outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, whose administration has backed Yanukovych.