MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said he hopes Ukraine's presidential election will boost ties with Moscow, which were badly damaged when a Kremlin-backed candidate lost the same race five years ago.
The January 17 first-round vote in Ukraine set up a February 7 run-off between opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Both are seen as friendlier to Russia than the current pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko.
"I hope that when the final results are compiled in Ukraine, a workable, effective leadership will appear disposed to the development of constructive, friendly, and comprehensive relations with the Russian Federation," Medvedev told Russia's new Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov.
Moscow has refrained from backing either candidate after Putin's support of Yanukovych's failed 2004 presidential bid was widely seen as an embarrassing diplomatic failure.
Putin publicly backed Yanukovych and his pro-Russian policies in the 2004 campaign and quickly congratulated him when initial results indicated he had won.
But Yanukovych's apparent victory was overturned amid a wave of protests over allegations of voter fraud, dubbed the Orange Revolution and fuelled in part by anti-Russian feeling. Yushchenko won a court-ordered rerun of the vote.
While the 2004 election was a battle between the pro-Russian Yanukovych and the pro-Western policies of eventual winner Viktor Yushchenko, relations with Russia have been a relatively minor issue in the current campaign.
Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have called for improved ties with both Moscow and the European Union.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier today called on the eventual winner not to play political games with Moscow.
"I am sure that the new Ukrainian president...will fully understand the need to develop relations this way and not make them hostage to their own, or someone else's, political ambitions," he told journalists.
At today’s meeting Medvedev also finalized Zurabov's appointment as Ukrainian ambassador and named him a special presidential envoy for trade and economic ties.