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Medvedev Rules Out Better Ties With Yushchenko

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev before their talks in Sochi
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ruled out any improvement in thorny relations with ex-Soviet neighbor Ukraine under its current President Viktor Yushchenko.

In an open letter issued on August 11, Medvedev accused the Ukrainian leader of pursuing a deliberately anti-Russian course and said he would delay sending Moscow's new ambassador to Kyiv.

"I have already said all I wanted to say," Medvedev told a news conference after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in his Black Sea residence on August 14. "If I expand on why I did this, I am afraid it may turn out even tougher."

"I do not see prospects for restoring normal relations under the current leaders," he added.

Yushchenko, who came to power following peaceful pro-Western protests in 2004, has opted for integrating Ukraine into NATO and the European Union, abandoning an alliance with Moscow.

Yushchenko has always been viewed by the Kremlin as a hostile figure and his support to Georgia during its war last year with Russia particularly infuriated Moscow.

Yushchenko rejected Medvedev's charges and his supporters accused the Kremlin leader of trying to impose his will on Ukraine.

Yushchenko will run in presidential polls on January 17, and Medvedev's verbal attack -- and the Ukrainian leader's response -- could boost his popularity with nationalist voters.

But Yushchenko is unlikely to win given his popularity rating of just four percent.

Analysts have said Medvedev's comments were designed to send a message to other candidates, including Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich.

"I hope the new Ukrainian leadership will have many chances of considerably improving relations between Ukraine and Russia," Medvedev said. "Russia is really striving to achieve this. This is a top foreign policy priority for us."

Yanukovich, backed by Moscow in the 2004 presidential poll that sparked the Orange Revolution, said restoring good ties with Russia would be his priority if elected.

He is now the presidential frontrunner, scoring 24 percent in the latest polls, compared to 14 percent for his nearest rival Tymoshenko, an Orange Revolution ally turned bitter rival of Yushchenko.

Tymoshenko, who led a series of talks with Moscow during a gas price row that led to supply cuts earlier this year, on August 14 distanced herself from Yushchenko's policy towards Russia.

"As prime minister, I have done and will do everything possible to deepen mutually advantageous co-operation between Russia and Ukraine, especially in the economic sphere," she said in a statement.

But Tymoshenko stressed she would not allow Moscow to interfere in Ukrainian politics. "Ukraine will independently, with no external influence, define its foreign and domestic policy," she said.