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Ukraine PM Wants To Deepen Ties With Moscow

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko
KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has said she wants to deepen ties with Moscow, which has criticized the president for "anti-Russian" policies, but said Kyiv's foreign policy would not be influenced by anyone.

Tymoshenko, due to run for president in the January 17 election in which Russian ties will be an issue, does not usually comment on foreign policy but said she "could not stay silent" after Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev's remarks earlier this week.

Medvedev's open letter to President Viktor Yushchenko, in which he said he wanted a new leader in Ukraine who was easier to deal with, was seen by analysts as an attempt to influence the presidential election and as a warning shot to candidates.

"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 for which the government is responsible," she said in a statement.

"I have developed and will develop relations with Russia as equals, on the basis of national interests, common advantages, with respect to sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"Ukraine will independently, with no external influence, define its foreign and domestic policy," she added.

Ukrainian media saw her comments as a message to Moscow that as president, her policies would be warmer than Yushchenko's. He has been a thorn in relations between the ex-Soviet states since the 2004 Orange Revolution that swept him to power.

"We are always ready to listen and take into account the opinion of our partners in the East and the West, to take into account their interests, but interference in our domestic affairs is unacceptable," she said.

Yushchenko waited two days before responding to Medvedev's tirade against him, calling his remarks disappointing and unfriendly and accusing Russia of shrugging off responsibility for the "serious problems" that exist between the two states.

The exchange marked a new downturn in ties between Moscow and Kyiv, which have been soured by Yushchenko's bid for Ukrainian membership of the NATO alliance, rows over Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea and disputes over gas supplies.

Yushchenko is expected to lose the election as his support has dwindled to just 4 percent. Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych -- the Moscow-backed candidate who lost out in the 2004 revolution -- leads the polls, followed by Tymoshenko.